By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Back behind the pots for the annual crawfish boil, presented by the Rotary Club of FishHawk-Riverview, is Michael Broussard, past board chair of the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce and owner of The Flying Locksmiths, serving south Hillsborough County.
Scheduled this year for April 22 at Founders Square Park at Winthrop Town Center in Riverview, the 13th annual Crawfish & Craft Beer Festival reaches deep into Broussard’s passions for food, family, altruism and, of course, freshly caught seafood with Louisiana crawfish boil seasonings.
The signature event for local Rotarians draws vendors, volunteers and attendees from near and far, growing from about 800 pounds of crawfish served in the festival’s inaugural year to the “sweet spot for us” at around 2,000 pounds, Broussard said.
This year, Rotarians are out to set a record. They’re planning to serve 4,000 pounds of crawfish, which at about two pounds per serving amounts to 2,000 crawfish meals.
With student and adult volunteers, as well as help from sister clubs throughout Tampa Bay, “our goal is to raise $50,000,” Broussard said, “and I would have never imagined being able to do that when we first started out.”
Also on the festival menu are gumbo, étouffée, Broussard’s dirty rice, pulled pork sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs and, Broussard added, Don Robinson’s smoked fish spread. The All-You-Can-Eat-And-Drink dinner donation is $100, the Crawfish Family Pack is $50 and the price for a single crawfish dinner is $20. Orders can be placed in advance, but there is no delivery or shipping of meals.
“Starting out we used to send somebody to Louisiana to pick up the crawfish,” Broussard said. “After the first five or six years of the festival, our supplier started delivering the crawfish to us.”
When it comes to crawfish, speed is of the essence. “You’ve got to have fresh crawfish,” Broussard said. “The fresher you get them, the juicier they are. Within two days of harvesting them, we’re cooking them.”
Eating crawfish is an event in itself, which by definition requires time and attention. “Peel them, suck the head and don’t forget to pinch the tail, that’s where all the flavor is,” Broussard said. “And just enjoy the time you have to just sit there and enjoy that experience. It’s not about speed eating. It’s about enjoying time with friends and family.”
True, “your fingers get pretty messed up,” and crawfish might not be a favorite of some, but for those in the know, “it’s kind of like shrimp or lobster, but crawfish is fresh-water raised,” Broussard said. “And ours has the taste of the water from the fresh-water pounds of Louisiana.”
That in turn is where Broussard grew up, “in the marshes of southwest Louisiana, swimming in the bayous,” he said. “If you watch ‘Swamp People’ [on the History channel], those are the kind of waters I grew up on.”
As a child in Vermilion Parish, Broussard said he learned how to cook from his mom and grandparents in the family kitchen.
“Cooking became an interest of mine, and I eventually opened a restaurant,” Broussard said. Now, as a Florida resident and franchisee owner of a nationwide commercial locksmith company, Broussard said he gets “to use my gifts to help people in need and that’s pretty cool.”
Through time, talent and treasure, the crawfish festival has become a signature Tampa Bay event.
“The support of all Rotarians is really huge,” Broussard said. “This is about raising money for the things we support, such as high school student scholarships, local charities and assistance with Honduran Compassion Partners, through which we give people houses, latrines, water stations and water filters.”
Noting the Rotary hashtag, #ServiceAboveSelf, “that’s really what I’m about,” Broussard said. “If I can give back and do something good for people who need help, I’m here for it.”
The Rotary Club of FishHawk Riverview meets Mondays at noon at Gasparilla Pizza & Growlers in Valrico, at 1028 East Bloomingdale Ave. For more on the club, visit www.fishhawkriverviewrotary.org/. For more on the festival, vendor and volunteer opportunities and to place meal orders, visit www.luvcrawfish.com/. The festival is set to run 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine.