When the organizers of FestivALL’s Jazz & Jambalaya were making plans for the annual event taking place this weekend, they certainly didn’t buy up frozen, pre-prepped boxes of the traditional Louisiana fare. And they didn’t ask a local chef to do the honors — because, as anyone who’s ever made it surely knows, jambalaya isn’t about following a recipe with exact measurements and specific ingredients. It’s about following the flavor.
So instead, they reached out to a long-time family friend in the heart of Cajun country who just happens to be a wildly popular chef with his own cooking show and convinced him to trek all the way to Charleston — on Father’s Day, no less.
Al “Big Al” Barron will whip up the jambalaya he’s spent untold years perfecting, and will also hold a cooking demo for the Jazz & Jambalaya crowd at the Clay Center on Sunday.
“It’s a combination of flavors from all different cultures. It’s like gumbo,” said Barron.
He’s vague on the list of ingredients — bell peppers, onions, some of his own Jazz It Up seasonings, plus meat, a lot of meat. And one thing that comes with no substitutions.
“We say cooking is love and love is cooking. You can’t just throw it together — you want whoever is eating it to have an experience,” he said.
And he promises to deliver just that and “a whole lotta flavor” for the dinner portion of Sunday’s event.
Jazz & Jambalaya is a primary fundraiser for African American Philanthropy in Action, a Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation giving circle that focuses on funding community projects primarily on Charleston’s West Side.
Barron will be joined by celebrity foodies Steven “The Food Guy” Keith and WSAZ’s Amanda Barren in the Clay Center’s Walker Theater at 5 p.m. The demonstration includes jambalaya dinner and recipes, and will be followed by the Bob Thompson Reunion Concert beginning at 6:30 p.m. on the Main Stage.