By Sue Moore
From Lafayette, La., a team came to Michigan recently and took the little village of Vicksburg by storm with their charm, crawfish and the way they cooked the delicacy.
The Lafayette Travel Bureau responded to the alarm raised here when crawfish were found in the village and in Sunset Lake. They saw an opportunity to tout the shellfish, much loved in their area, by bringing a traveling road show hundreds of miles to Sunset Lake Park on August 19. “It seemed like a wacky idea at first,” said Jesse Guidry, coordinator for the event. “The more we got out the word, the more the idea caught the imagination of both communities.” Once the team arrived, “Everyone in Vicksburg was so friendly and welcoming. We almost felt like it was home.”
By the way, it’s “crawfish” in Louisiana, “crayfish” in Michigan.
Local residents and many from out of town mingled all afternoon while visiting with people from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Louisiana contingent. The state workers talked about the dangers of crayfish, found in Sunset Lake in July, as an invasive. In fact, Nick Popoff, the DNR manager, sparred with Sean Suer, who owns a crawfish farm near Lafayette, about the species.
Another highlight was Chef Lauren Liner demonstrating how to make the classic etouffee featuring crawfish caught in Louisiana and transported to the festival in frozen bags. The DNR made sure they weren’t bringing live shellfish that might set back the effort to rid the lake of the invasive red swamp crayfish.
Liner had fixed a huge batch of etouffee earlier in the day to feed the crowd of over 200 people who assembled during the afternoon.
There was an authentic Cajun band from Ann Arbor: Sel de Terre (Salt of the Earth) was playing background music during the afternoon. They kept people tapping their toes with their music while children enjoyed story-telling, face painting and others watched the cooking demonstration. A movie about “King Crawfish” was shown at the end of the day in the Sunset Lake pavilion.
The Lafayette Travel bureau financed the entire Cray Fest, as they called it, bringing a crew of five people including Guidry, a technician, a videographer, the chef and the crawfish farmer who is part-owner of the Cajun Table restaurant in Lafayette.
“We paid for the trip before we even left Lafayette,” said Guidry. “The publicity we gained from our local news outlets, the Associated Press, Food & Wine magazine, is invaluable for our $3.5 -million operation. We wanted to spread the word about the many special events we have in Lafayette and invite everybody from Michigan to come and visit us for our Crawfish Festival, which happens every year the first weekend in May.”