New Orleans King Cake Festival

Jack Waguespack, News Editor

On Sunday, King cake lovers gathered at Champions Square to taste and judge the best king cakes in New Orleans. This was the festival’s sixth year supporting pediatric programs and Ochsner Hospitals for Children. More than 400 Ochsner volunteers work the festival every year. According to one of the organizers, last year they raised over $259,000, making the festival one of Ochsner’s largest fundraisers. The first one was held in 2013, and nobody expected it to grow as large as it has.

Brought to New Orleans from France in 1870, the king cake tradition has become a staple of the Mardi Gras season. The king cake is a symbol representing the holy day observed by Catholics as the day Jesus showed himself to the three wise men. A plastic baby is hidden inside the cake, and whoever receives the piece with the baby in it has to buy the next king cake. Three Kings Day is when the majority of bakeries debut their king cakes for the season, following the Catholic tradition.

This year, 24 vendors showed up to see who had the best king cake in New Orleans. Some local favorites such as Bywater Bakery, Langenstein’s, NOLA Brand, Cartozzo’s Bakery and many others all brought their best cakes for the judges and guests to taste and vote on. Since not everyone brings in traditional king cakes, the festival has different categories for judging: “best presentation” went to Balestra’s, “most unique” went to Pain Frais, “best traditional” went to Sierra’s Sugar Love Cakes Bakery, “best non-traditional” went to Balestra’s, “most likely to replace a meal” went to Food Drunk Food Truck and “people’s choice”  went to Mr. Ronnie’s Famous Hot Donuts.

Crepes a la Cart, Diva Dawg and Food Drunk Food Truck offered meals that were a little more substantial than king cake.

The panel of judges ranged from former Mardi Gras maids to local food critics. Each judge went around to different tables and tasted various pieces of king cake from each bakery. It was up to the festival participants to judge the different cakes and vote for a people’s choice king cake.

Prior to the festivities, the Earn Dat King Cake marathon participants ran a 4.5k Rep Run through Champions Square. Runners were decked out in Saints gear and Mardi Gras apparel as they sprinted directly from the finish line to all of the sweet king cakes.

Local bands such as One South Lark and Marshland provided live music throughout the event, and items were raffled off in support of Ochsner. A children’s area provided games and an inflatable for kids to enjoy; local merch was sold.

After a devastating Saints game that cost them a trip to the Superbowl, the city gathered together once more and showed that there are still things worth celebrating. The Mardi Gras season looks like it is the redemption that many need, and the King Cake Festival is meant to kick off just that.