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Gumbo king Hodgson says spices are the secret

The spices are the secret to a great gumbo.

This was the word from Odinga Hodgson, Bermuda's newly crowned Gumbo king.

Mr Hodgson won the designation last week at a gumbo cook-off designed to raise money for local students to attend the African Heritage Diaspora Conference in Louisiana in October.

“It is all about the Creole spices,” said Mr Hodgson. “They use a spice combination called File. Creole is basically African meeting European meeting Native American. By European I mean especially French, Portuguese and Spanish.”

Mr Hodgson cooked a seafood gumbo for the competition that included crab, shrimp and sausage.

“I decided not to use any fish in it,” said Mr Hodgson, “as I thought the fish would break apart.”

He competed against four others in the competition that was held at Landfall Restaurant in Hamilton Parish where he works for his aunt, Ruth Paynter.

“It was a good turnout,” he said. “I wasn't really expecting to win. I just did what I love to do, which is cook.”

Mr Hodgson said he has been having a love affair with food since he was a small child. His mother, Lirus, is originally from Guyana and spent a lot of time cooking up delicious meals in the kitchen.

“I love to eat,” he said. “Nobody takes as much care and patience in seasoning a piece of meat as my mother does. We are both part carnivore.”

He said his mother often jokes about the time she made roti for a large number of guests and Mr Hodgson, a small child, sat in the kitchen and ate everything.

Mr Hodgson learned how to make the perfect gumbo earlier this year when he visited his girlfriend's family, the Roys of Texas. They are originally from Louisiana.

“They all wanted to show me how to make various dishes such as gumbo and crayfish,” said Mr Hodgson. “Before I knew it they had made like ten different dishes of gumbo I had to taste.”

They impressed on him the importance of not burning the roux, the flour and oil mixture that forms the base of gumbo, so much so that he was actually quite nervous about making it during the competition.

“I was probably overly cautious,” he said. “I watched them all cook and remembered everything. I had to improvise as the Roys put something called Zummo sausage in their gumbo. The gumbo I made was shrimp, crab and three different types of sausage. I couldn't find any of the real Zummo sausage. We didn't have any of that here so I used a mixture of Polish and Italian sausage.”

Mr Hodgson spent three years working for Wahoo Restaurant, and learned a lot from the chef there, Alfred Conrad.

“He was fun to work with,” he said. “This guy always had the time to answer questions. I am not a chef, but I always want to learn and I am always asking questions. He always had the time to explain things for me. He always made the time to make sure I was well fed as well. I thank him for reinvigorating my love for cooking.”

The competition almost fell into conflict with Mr Hodgson's other passion, fishing.

“My cousin called me up the day before the competition and asked me if I wanted to go fishing,” said Mr Hodgson. “I said, ‘yeah, of course. Where?' Then I remembered I had the competition. I said, ‘well look, I'll need to have the gumbo ready by 5pm so you have to have me back by 2pm.”

Obviously the plan was a success as Mr Hodgson went on to win.

“I just love art,” said Mr Hodgson. “I like to sing and I like poetry. I consider cooking to be an amazing art form.”

Great gumbo: Chef Odinga Hodgson (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published August 16, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 15, 2013 at 7:07 pm)

Gumbo king Hodgson says spices are the secret

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