Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, Filé Gumbo…
…the sound of Wayne Toups and the zydeco accordion mixed with the smell of cayenne pepper and lemon in the air create a very nostalgic feeling for me. While most people were away at the beach or on the lake during Memorial Day weekend, I spent the last Saturday in May at Mudbug Madness since 1984. I was just a toddler on my mother’s hip standing in the crowd cheering my dad on as he crushed through pound after pound of hot boiled crawfish.
My dad is James Tyler- the man, the myth, the legend. As cliché as that phrase sounds, it is without a doubt very fitting. Who knew that one entry into the first crawfish eating contest in Shreveport would lead to three world titles and a lifelong legacy. In the beginning the contest would last thirty minutes and consisted of shells flying, eyes watering and bellies bloating. How much crawfish can you eat in thirty minutes? You may think that’s not that long, but ten minutes and ten pounds in, you start to slow down and think to yourself, “What was I thinking?” But with the prize at stake and the crowd screaming your name, you keep going. The prizes were bountiful- lots of cash and big trophies.
Once at the Holiday In Dixie he won a pirogue in addition to a five hundred dollar cash prize. Then he went on to compete for the world title in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. With a whopping hour long eat, he managed to eat fifty-two pounds. Yes that’s right, fifty two pounds of crawfish. With that followed celebrity meet and greets including then sitting Governor Edwards and interviews with CNN, local media, and pictures in the newspapers all over Louisiana. They’ve since shortened the length at the Breaux Bridge festival to forty- five minutes and the Shreveport festival to fifteen minutes. Small potatoes (with hot sauce) I say!
After a short break in entering the contests, “retirement” my dad said, we thought it would be fun to make a “come back”. In 2010 my younger brother Jacob and I loaded up and took a road trip with the Crawfish Champion down to south Louisiana to enter the contest. They both decided to enter with the idea that my brother would take over the legacy. The contestants were lined up on stage, the rules were announced, and the flag waved to signal the start of the forty – five minutes. Both my boys were flying past the other contestants with ease. With only a few minutes left to go, my dad starts to slow down thinking that my brother had it in the bag. I knew, watching from the crowd, that he did not. I saw his face turning green, and just like that he lost his crawfish lunch and the world title with a disqualification for being unable to keep it down in the time allotted. The crowd went wild yelling and shouting for my dad to keep going because he had to win now with my brother out of the contest. Keep going he did, and win he did. He ate 34 3/4 pounds of crawfish in forty- five minutes and added another world title to the collection. Proudly, we enjoyed the rest of the festival and headed back to Shreveport in anticipation of entering the contest on Memorial Day weekend. Again, he won.
With that challenge achieved, he is he is now in retirement mode once again, enjoying the festival and the contest from the other side of the stage. He may enter again one of these days just to see if he can still shake up the rest of the lineup, and if he does, rest assured he will win again. I am so honored and thrilled to be able to tell this story about a son of a gun that had good fun on the bayou.
Happy Father’s Day, JT!