Tastes like home or feels like home. I can’t remember whose slogan that is but I know the feeling. I “tasted” home at the Gulf Breeze Rotary Gumbo Cookoff last Saturday.
The cookoff takes place on the shores of Santa Rosa Sound with kids playing beach volleyball, fishermen and boaters, all within sight. An employee at Bay Breeze Retirement Center had “comped” me two tickets for this annual event; I wish I could have voted for Bay Breeze’s gumbo entry. It was delicious, but her boss one-upped her.
Bay Breeze is one of several area retirement centers managed by Gulf Coast Health Care. For the past few years, their chefs have won the Gulf Breeze Rotary Cookoff. Each chef proudly displays his past trophies and “wrestling style” championship belts at the cookoff.
This year, their nursing home entries had a lively competition among each other since one chef had transferred facilities, taking his gumbo-kudos with him. All three of the facility entries were delicious, but over in the corner was the Gulf Coast Health Care corporate office tent. And that’s where I tasted home.
I had just sampled a former champ’s entry, so a wonderful aftertaste lingered when I stopped at the lackluster corporate tent. No trophies, wrestling belts, Mardi Gras beads or posters with newspaper articles fancying up the place – just samples of gumbo under a bland tent. I didn’t expect much.
They asked if I liked oysters.
“In gumbo, they’re fine,” I said, just as I swallowed the first bite. It triggered an immediate memory of my grandmother’s front yard.
“Who’s recipe?” I asked trying to define the taste.
“It’s mine,” the young man answered.
And then I knew it. Something about the way he said “mine,” with just the slightest sound of home.
“Where are you from?”
High-five, fist bump.
“So am I.”
I don’t know if the corporate office won the cookoff, but they definitely won my People’s Choice votes. I learned that the taste of home is in the water, but not in the water from the Pascagoula River. It’s from the oysters which have filtered the brackish water around Pascagoula – like those oysters my dad used to shuck behind my grandmother’s house while I played in the front yard.
Thanks for memories – and the tickets!