Renamed Cajun Festival spices up Isleton

06/18/2012 12:00 AM

06/19/2012 9:55 AM

Several thousand people traveled winding back roads over the weekend to get to Isleton's "Cajun Festival," mostly to taste the traditional Cajun-style crawdads.

Even though Isleton sold its Crawdad Festival in 2009 to Red Bluff because of rowdy behavior and financial difficulties, organizers brought back the celebration last year under a different name with the idea that the appetite for crawdads remains undiminished.

And they offered a more family-friendly atmosphere.

"I think we're really doing a good job in bringing back the old festival," said Jean Yokotobi, festival coordinator and president of Isleton's Chamber of Commerce.

Festival organizers expected double the attendance from last year, but Saturday fell short of expectations. Yokotobi attributed the lackluster numbers to the extreme heat spike.

"Even I was distressed in the heat," she said.

Jessica Becerra, chamber treasurer, said Sunday's cooling Delta breezes blew in many more attendees than the previous year's Father's Day.

Yokotobi pronounced the two-day run a success but said that the festival needs to run for five years to set the pace.

Red Bluff's festival was held two weeks ago. In Isleton, the festival featured family-oriented entertainment, including clowns and a magician.

One particularly notable difference between the old and new festival was the origin of the crawdads.

Previously, the crawfish were mostly from Louisiana, and they arrived at the festival live. The new supplier, Ted's Meat from Stockton, shipped in frozen, pre-cooked – but wild-caught – crawfish from China. Festival cooks seasoned them with Cajun spices.

"They're not as juicy as they used to be," said Bob Watson, who came with his family from Newark. But he attributed that to smaller cooking vats. When he found out that the crawfish came from China, he said, "That doesn't change anything."

But Trisha Yarborough, who has been at Isleton's festival with her family every year since she was a toddler, thought the fresh crawfish tasted better.

"It doesn't make me happy that they're from China," she said. "I'd rather them be local or from Louisiana for some authenticity."

She might not be able to get that. Yokotobi said that the festival organizers contacted a local vendor first, but the volume of demand was too high for the supply.

"Actually, I got a call from Louisiana asking us if we had any crawfish," she said. "The hurricane really affected availability, and there's a shortage."

The crawdad vendor had brisk sales Sunday, and people even asked to buy the boxes of crawfish frozen to take home.

"It's kind of odd knowing they're from China, but we're going to have them anyway," said Dean Halstead of Sacramento.

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