[StBernard] Just don't call 'em crayfish

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Apr 29 18:18:53 EDT 2009

Just don't call 'em crayfish
Operation Southern Comfort celebrates the Louisiana treat
Joyce Reap, of Liverpool, fell in love with the idea of a "crawfish boil"
the first time she attended one in 2007 in Chalmette, La.

Chalmette, a New Orleans suburb, was still mostly in ruins in the wake of
Hurricane Katrina, which struck in 2005. Reap was part of Operation Southern
Comfort, a Liverpool-based volunteer group helping to rebuild houses there
and elsewhere in St. Bernard Parish.

Despite the chaos, misery and need left by the hurricane, Reap watched in
amazement as her Louisiana hosts gathered at the local Knights of Columbus
Hall for a rollicking get-together built around an ugly crustacean
affectionately known as a mudbug.

In Louisiana, Reap found, a crawfish boil is the equivalent of a Northeast
clambake, only more so.

"It's not just something to do and having something to eat. It's an
experience," Reap said. "It's spreading the crawfish out, picking at them,
having a beer, eating crawfish, having a good old time and eating some more.
That's what attracted me to it."

This Saturday, Reap, Operation Southern Comfort coordinator Norm
Andrzejewski and other volunteers will host their second annual Crawfish
Festival in Syracuse to benefit the organization.

Last year, the first crawfish fest drew hundreds of people to Syracuse's
Hanover Square on a chilly April 5. They served 1,500 pounds of boiled
crawfish and raised $30,000.

This year, the fest jumps ahead a month, to May 2, and has moved to the more
spacious Inner Harbor in Syracuse. Posters for the event advertise "more
crawfish and more crawfish serving stations." Reap says they've ordered
3,000 pounds through the Louisiana Crawfish Co.

What's not likely to change is the puzzled look that some Central New
Yorkers will have when confronted with a bright-red boiled crawfish. Imagine
the looks the first time someone is invited to ''pinch the tail'' and ''suck
the head.''

Yes, that's how you eat boiled crawfish.

To help out, the Operation Southern Comfort folks have invited up some of
the people from St. Bernard Parish who host them on their trips. The
Louisianans will help oversee the boiling, mingle with festgoers and guide
crawfish novices in how to eat them.

One of those people is Darrel Gonzales, who heads up Chalmette's Knights of
Columbus council. He is a commercial fisherman who knows his crawfish.

''People up there think they're small lobsters,'' said Gonzales, who has
organized crawfish boils with hundreds of pounds of seafood. ''But you ain't
gonna split it open with a knife.''

His technique? ''You gotta squeeze the tail and use your teeth to pull the
meat from the shell.''

Gonzales and other members of his family are happy to make the trip to help
Operation Southern Comfort, which still sends teams of volunteers to
Louisiana almost four years after the floods.

''If it wasn't for those people like Southern Comfort, St. Bernard and the
New Orleans area wouldn't be where we are today with having houses
rebuilt,'' Gonzales said.

As for giving advice on crawfish eating to Northerners, Gonzales is gung-ho.

''I'm ready for it,'' he said. ''Let's eat some crawfish.''

Food & Drink Editor Don Cazentre can be reached at 470-2297 or by email at
dcazentre at syracuse.com. His Drinks blog is at blog.syracuse.com/ drinks

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