Nov 24, 2009 3:14 PM by sleonard
OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) - They say truckers know where the really good food is. And at least one truckstop gumbo is a definite winner.
The chicken and sausage gumbo that Rita Fontenot simmers at King's Truck Stop in Port Barre was named tops in its category at the Soiree Royale food contest.
"I went there, really, to just bring gumbo and put it out there," said Fontenot, the head cook at King's. After all, she was up against some heavy hitters from the Opelousas and Lafayette
It didn't quite register when her name was announced.
"I was just in a daze. My little co-worker, Angela Chenier, she pushed me. She said, 'Miss Rita, that's you. You need to go up there!"'
Gumbo weather may be upon us, but it's not just a seasonal thing for Fontenot.
"She sells as much gumbo in the summer as she does in the winter," said Paulette Olivier, co-owner of King's Truck Stop, a family-owned business. "People from Baton Rouge come and buy frozen containers of her gumbo."
The secret to her award-winning gumbo is slow-cooking. She lets the roux simmer for about two hours before adding the other ingredients. It cooks out the roux taste, she said.
Although Fontenot has been working in food service since the 1960s, she began cooking professionally only eight years ago.
She has no formal training as a chef, but learned by watching others, first her mother and mother-in-law, then the chefs and cooks she worked with.
She began working at King's in 1964 as a waitress, and continued waitressing at Enola Prudhomme's restaurant, which is now closed.
She returned to King's about nine years ago as a supervisor.
When the cook suddenly quit, Fontenot took over the kitchen.
The arrangement has worked out well for Fontenot and for the restaurant, Olivier said.
"I wish I could put her on the copy machine and make copies of her," she said.
Information from: The Daily World, http://www.dailyworld.com
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)