Big fun on the Bayou |

Big fun on the Bayou

April E. Clark
Arts and Entertainment Contributor

CARBONDALE — When Chef David Stassi whips up the 15 gallons of gumbo by hand for Carbondale Clay Center’s Cajun Clay Night today, he’ll be thinking of his father.

“It’s my dad’s recipe,” said Stassi, from his day job at as a chef at Anderson Ranch Arts Center. “If people want real gumbo then we’ll bring it to them. It’s an authentic New Orleans recipe. If we’re going to serve gumbo, it better be the real thing.”

Proving there’s no doubt there, Chef Stassi was born and raised in the uptown section of New Orleans, near Tulane University. He moved to the Aspen valley five years ago when he saw an ad looking for a culinary whiz in the newspaper.

“I used to come here as a kid to ski with my parents,” he said. “I worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and I had a frozen yogurt operation called Cherry On Top. I decided to make a change and do something different, so I’ve been here since about ’08.”

Chef Stassi said the 15 gallons of gumbo he’ll prepare for tonight’s Cajun Clay Night — his second year in a row — is nothing compared to the Aspen Soupskol competition that takes place in January.

I made 30 gallons of gumbo for that,” he said. “I’m not sure if I’ll be doing that again.”

Working at a nonprofit arts organization, Chef Stassi said he is happy to donate his time to prepare homemade gumbo for the Carbondale Clay Center’s biggest fundraising event of the year.

“I just like being part of the arts community and love to help how I can,” he said.

Chef Stassi said his secret is in the stock.

“I get a whole turkey and boil it down and pull out all the meat, then I put it back in to use that for the actual stock,” he said. “And instead of rice, which we served with the gumbo last year, I’ll be making cheese grits with Gruyère. And of course, cornbread.”

One of the highlights of Cajun Clay Night — in its 15th year as the Carbondale Clay Center’s community party of the year — are the handmade pottery bowls in which Chef Stassi’s gumbo is served.

“It’s just a party for our town,” said Jill Oberman, a potter and Clay Center executive director. “It’s a nice night where people can have dinner, bring home a bowl, and have some cake.”

The popular six-foot long, alligator-shaped Gator Cake is a community effort that includes 30 to 40 sheet cakes that volunteers bake and pounds of donated frosting from City Market. The final product is a festive, brightly colored Gator Cake with glass eyes that event King James Surls and Queen Mindy Kaegebein will cut.

“The cake is pretty wild, especially with all the candy around it,” Oberman said. “Our community really has to help us put this event on, and this is their party. This is our biggest fundraiser of the year, and all the money from ticket sales goes to our operating costs to help us sustain ourselves in the community.”

Oberman said she expects anywhere from 150 to 200 arts supporters at the event, which starts at 5 p.m. today. Tickets are $65 at the door, and kids 6-16 get in for $30. Cajun Clay Night also features a cash bar and live music by Carbondale’s own Electric Lemon.

“This event is so important to the Carbondale Clay Center because we all need to exercise our creativity and ability to problem-solve, and ceramic sculpture helps with that,” she said. “I think art paves the way for that kind of thinking. I’m a big fan of art in this valley. It’s a good place to make art.”

And gumbo.

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