Waves crashed as a supply vessel approached the Maersk Valiant deepwater drillship stationed near an oil rig 400 miles off the coast of Louisiana one May night around a decade ago. Chris Reed and several of his crewmates hauled the shipping crates containing 2,500 pounds of crawfish on ice, along with a large number of pots and cookers, onto the ship. After they set up the equipment on the deck, Reed seasoned and prepared the mudbugs for all 300 crewmembers on the ship.
A longtime Mathiston, Miss., resident, Reed traveled to Lafayette, La., to apply as an environmental specialist for a company called MI Flaco in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Reed’s position saw him stationed on a number of different oil rigs off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, working to remove massive amounts of crude oil from the Gulf. He and other workers regularly spent as long as two weeks at a time stationed offshore working around the clock to clean up after the spill followed by a week of downtime on shore before returning to the rigs once more.
Working side-by-side for extended periods, Reed and other rig workers took to talking while they worked, and food became a regular subject. Reed, who had already enjoyed cooking even before working the rigs, found himself learning a great deal about Cajun cooking from his fellow workers, and he picked up a number of recipe ideas from them that he would often practice putting his own spin on during his downtime—leading him ultimately to volunteer to feed his crew that spring day.
“I’ve been cooking all my life and have found that you can honestly pick up recipes from any number of people in any number of places, whether you’re working with them or just camping out on the weekend,” Reed says. “The trick has been to twist my recipes to better suit the tastes of people in Mississippi, as they do things very differently out in Louisiana. I use a lot of cumin in my crawfish spice, and while it might not be quite as spicy as what you’ll get in New Orleans, it has plenty of flavor.”
After leaving the Gulf, Reed returned to Mississippi and began cooking for friends and family using the Cajun recipes he had learned in Louisiana. His cooking proved popular enough that he soon went into business selling his dishes, but Reed decided he wanted his customers to be able to sit down and enjoy his cooking on the spot rather than taking it with them. On April 6, 2019, Reed purchased a building in Mathiston that had once housed a small country store and gas station, and he opened his own storefront called Clarkson General Store. After going into business, customers began referring to Reed as “Crawfish Chris” and the name stuck, leading Reed to add “Crawfish Chris’ Surf & Turf” to the name of his business.
Today, Reed has partnered with the nearby town of Eupora, Miss., to help launch the inaugural Eupora Crawfish Cook-Off, which is set to take place on Saturday, April 15, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Eupora Civic Center (2135 W. Roane Ave., Eupora). Eupora won’t be alone in its festivities, however, as a number of other Mississippi towns are hosting crawfish boils of their own both on that weekend and throughout April, meaning Mississippians will have plenty of options to get in on the celebrations and gatherings nearest to them.
Eupora Crawfish Cook-Off
Eupora Mayor Blake McMullen, who began his tenure in 2021, began organizing the Eupora Crawfish Cook-Off in November 2022 as part of a larger initiative to bring at least 500 visitors to Eupora each month through local events. In addition to promoting tourism, the crawfish cook-off will also serve as a fundraiser to maintain special canopy lighting that lines Main Street in downtown Eupora.
The cook-off will feature 10 teams of crawfish chefs stationed around the Eupora Civic Center. Guests may partake in unlimited samples from each team. After visitors have had their fill, they can cast their votes for the cook-off’s people’s choice award for the best crawfish. The competition will also have a mayor’s choice award that McMullen will decide the winner of and a judge’s choice award. Chris Reed will be one of the judges for the event along with Stafford Shurden, owner of Stafford’s On Main Street in Drew, Miss., and Jeff Jones, a Tupelo native and food critic who runs a blog site called Eating Out With Jeff Jones. Winners of each division will receive specially engraved wooden paddles used for cooking crawfish.
The event will also include live music from the Jason Miller Band and Dallas Dixon, beer from Clark Beverage Company, other foods such as hamburgers and hotdogs, bounce houses for children and more.
Adult tickets are $30 in advance or $40 at the door, tickets for children ages 5 to 11 are $10, and children ages 4 and under get in free. Admission includes unlimited crawfish tastings and two free beers or other beverages. The awards presentation will take place at 9:30 p.m.
“We’re all looking to bring some action to Eupora to promote it and help it grow, which ultimately benefits everyone,” Janet Cook, executive director of the Eupora Economic Development nonprofit and organizer for the event, says. “We’ve never done an event like this here before and hope it will give folks a chance to come out and experience Eupora and see what we have to offer.”
To purchase advance tickets for the Eupora Crawfish Cook-off, visit euporaed.com/crawfish-cook-off.
Hattiesburg 24th Annual Downtown Crawfish Jam Music Festival
South of Eupora, the City of Hattiesburg will be putting on its own crawfish festival, Downtown Crawfish Jam, in Walthall Park (600 Walnut St., Hattiesburg) on Saturday, April 15.
Dave Ware, a nurse anesthetist and member of the Hattiesburg City Council, partnered with a group of other medical professionals in Hattiesburg to launch the event in 1999 under the name Medical Mudbugs with the goal of supporting local nonprofit organizations. Today, the Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood hosts the festival as a fundraiser for the Walthall Foundation. Proceeds for the event support historic preservation efforts for the Walthall School building in downtown Hattiesburg as well as other local events such as the Victorian Candlelit Christmas.
The festival will feature more than 7,000 pounds of all-you-can-eat crawfish as well as hamburgers and hotdogs, Coke products and beer. The event will also offer bounce houses for children and live music throughout the park from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Performers will include the 18-Miles band, Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble, Holly Rumbarger and the New Relics, and Blackwater Brass.
Adult tickets for visitors age 21 and older are $50, which includes admission plus all-you-can-eat and drink. Junior tickets for attendees ages 13 to 20 are $40. Children age 12 and under can enter at no charge. Limited parking along the streets in the Walthall neighborhood will be available. Walnut Street itself will be closed off between Hall and Rebecca avenues, and Rebecca Avenue will be closed between Walnut and Court streets.
For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit dcjhburg.com.
Community Bank’s Downtown Crawfest in Laurel
In Laurel, Miss., 25 teams of crawfish chefs will gather along Front Street to compete in the Community Bank Downtown Crawfest on Saturday, April 15, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
A panel of Laurel residents will serve as judges for the event, along with a randomly chosen member of one of the competing teams. Criteria for the competition include texture, ease of peeling, depth of flavor and aftertaste.
In addition to the winner the judges pick, there will also be a people’s choice division in which visitors vote on their favorite. Winners will receive cash prizes along with an oversized crawfish paddle engraved with the winning team’s name. Staff will announce the winners at 2:30 p.m.
The event will also feature live music from Grits and Greens, a play area for children, food stalls and beer from Stokes Distributing.
Tickets are $15 per person and children under age 12 get in free. Pets will not be allowed on site. Visitors can also purchase 5-pound bags of crawfish on-site for $15 in cash payments only.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Laurel Main Street’ Façade & Amenities Grant Program, which reimburses businesses or building owners for a portion of the costs of renovating their buildings.
“Our facade grant program allows downtown Laurel to keep its historic character as building owners make improvements,” Caroline Burks, executive director of Laurel Main Street, says. “Keeping that character is so important because once something is demolished, it can never be rebuilt in quite the same way.”
“We want to save these buildings and make sure they retain that character even as Laurel grows organically,” she adds. “Supporting our original architecture goes a long way toward giving visitors to Laurel the best possible experience.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit laurelmainstreet.com/crawfest.
HAAR 10th Annual All You Can Eat Crawfish Boil
While April 15 will be packed with crawfish events around the state, other opportunities will pop up throughout the month, starting with the HAAR 10th Annual All You Can Eat Crawfish Boil at Patio 44 (3822 W. 4th St. Hattiesburg) in Hattiesburg on Saturday, April 22, from noon to 4 p.m.
The Hattiesburg Area Association of Realtors established the event in 2013 as a way to celebrate spring while giving back to the Hattiesburg community.
“Patio 44 has a great outdoor space that’s perfect for bringing people together outside of their normal work environment and letting them relax,” Sinnana Jones, chairwoman of HAAR’s Community Service Committee, told the Mississippi Free Press.
Proceeds from this year’s event will benefit the Kids Hub Child Advocacy Center in Hattiesburg, an organization that works with police and social-services organizations to take in and aid child-abuse victims. Past events have supported charities such as St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Habitat for Humanity and Extra Table.
The event will feature a raffle and a silent auction with items that businesses around Hattiesburg have donated such as paintings, jewelry and more. Mendenhall native Lloyd “Hurricane” Munn will perform live music.
Tickets are $35 per person. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.
The Chamber of Flowood’s 2023 Mudbug Bash
For Jackson-metro residents looking for something closer to home, look no further than the Chamber of Flowood’s 10th annual Mudbug Bash, which will take place on Thursday, April 27, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Flowood Nature Park (4077 Flowood Drive, Flowood).
Mudbugs Crawfish and Catering (1299 Old Fannin Road, Brandon) is preparing crawfish, corn and potatoes for the event, which will also feature live music from 9 Dimes and beer from Southern Beverage Company.
Adult tickets with beer included are $40, while adult tickets with water are $30. Children’s tickets are $15 each. Tickets are available online or at the Chamber of Flowood office (2200 Refuge Blvd., Flowood).
Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.
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