MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — A local favorite event came back to town this weekend in Mexico Beach, as the 21st annual Gumbo Cook-off took place on Saturday drawing hundreds of locals and visitors to the area.
“It looks like the community was really looking forward to this,” said Joe Whitmer, the Executive Director of the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce and a visitor to the cook-off. “It’s awesome to have this back in Mexico Beach and for everyone to know that Mexico Beach is back open for business.”
Participants in the cook-off felt the same way.
“It’s exciting to be a part of the rebirth, the rebranding, the coming-of-age in Mexico Beach,” said one participant, Jason Bogan, representing the “Blast on the Beach” Songwriters’ Festival.
Under a clear blue sky, with plenty of Gumbo and Brunswick stew to go around, hundreds celebrated not just community, but recovery, as the Gumbo Cook-off’s return after Hurricane Michael symbolized the return to a sense of normalcy for residents.
“We will come back,” said one of those residents, Joanne Kennedy. “This community is the best community to ever, ever live in.”
For Kennedy, coming back stronger means everything; she’s one of hundreds of residents who got to see plans for that revitalization at the event.
Mexico Beach City Administrator, Mario Gisbert, showed the designs for seven stormwater management and greenspace projects to the public at the cook-off.
“This is one year’s worth of work,” said Gisbert. “As they’re walking by, they’re coming in and they’re interested to see how they’re going to rebuild. So, it’s been really nice for them to see that we do have a vision.”
That vision was inspired by community ideas, and put into a visualized plan by dozens of local, state and federal agencies and groups.
Kennedy said she likes what she sees.
“We went to all the meetings to come up with these ideas,” she said. “The city took everything in, and it’s wonderful.”
Gisbert said the projects all have different timelines, some longer than others, but they all have the same effect.
“Each one of them rebuilds Mexico Beach little by little, by little,” he said.
All of the money raised at the cook-off will go towards supporting Mexico Beach’s 4th of July fireworks display.