When Terrance Simien isn't bringing his unique zydeco sound to the masses, he can often be found cooking his favorite Creole delicacies. So the Grammy Award-winning singer doesn't hesitate when asked if he has a favorite gumbo recipe.

"You know, my favorite would have to be a combination of seafood and duck," says Simien, an eighth generation Creole from St. Landry Parish, La. "I love gumbo, all different kinds."

Simien will have a variety of gumbo recipes to choose from when he returns to Somers Point this weekend as the headliner for the inaugural At The Shore Gumbo Cook-off and Music Festival, taking place noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at Somers Point Fire Company No. 1.

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The daylong festival will also feature Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band fame performing with his Jimmy Buffett tribute band License to Chill, and Johnny Sansone and his New Orleans Allstar Band. More than 20 local chefs, restaurants and celebrity cooks will be serving up all styles of Gumbo, including chicken and sausage, seafood, vegetarian and pork and beef varieties, to name a few.

Festival attendees will receive a ballot to vote on their favorite gumbo. The Top 3 people's choice award winners will receive cash prizes of $1,000, $750 and $500, respectively. Local media personalities serving as judges will also present their own critic's choice award.

Competing chefs will be representing Sofia's, Harry's Oyster Bar, Latz's by the Bay, The Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House, Kings Lounge and Uncle Woody Construction, among others.

A portion of the proceeds from the festival will benefit Seashore Gardens Living Center in Galloway Township, Access One, Inc., and the Shirley Mae Breast Cancer Assistance Fund, as well as Somers Point Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.

"It's a tremendous value," says Carmen Marotta of Tony Mart Presents, the organizers behind the festival. "We're only charging $20 and you get a first-class music festival. This is about community and friends. We're celebrating the greatness of New Orleans."

This festival is personal for Marotta, who made his first trip to New Orleans in 1982 after his father's legendary Tony Mart nightclub in Somers Point closed its doors. Ever since, he has returned to New Orleans several times a year, taking in the music scene and all the area festivals that come with it.

Following in the Tony Mart tradition, Marotta has worked hard to bring big-name music acts to both Somers Point and Atlantic City with summer concerts on the beach and Boardwalk. Each of the Cajun-style headliners at Saturday's gumbo fest considers Marotta a good friend.

"We want to reproduce that New Orleans, Louisiana-style setting," says Marotta, who will also be demonstrating how to make Jersey crab gumbo at the festival. "We've got 14 chefs, gumbo lessons … people can come in and sample 14 different gumbos and see this great show. We'll have Joe Canal's Bourbon Street bar there. We'll have some things for the kids."

For Simien, festivals like this one are an important opportunity to share the history of Creole and zydeco music, he says.

"There are a lot of reasons for preserving this style of music and keeping it going, you know?" says Simien, who is of French, African, Spanish, Native American and German ancestry. "This is one of the oldest forms of American music. The Creoles have been in Louisiana for more than 300 years. We've always had our music. The first language here wasn't English. It was French. And (the music) is unique to Louisiana, but it has a world connection.

"And all these different cultures came together in Louisiana and influenced the culture and the food," Simien says. "That happens all over the world, but it happened in a special way here in Louisiana and started something special and unique. It's one of those things. My job is to educate people on what the music is, where it comes from and to show people how to connect with so many different cultures. All of our history is important."

Like the popular Good Old Days Festival he organizes each summer in Somers Point, Marotta hopes to see the festival grow for years to come.

"As the years go on, the beauty of this is it's something that can grow," Marotta says. "We really want the community support. We want people that love all the things that we do to come out for this. It's really the old generation and the new generation coming together."

At The Shore

Gumbo Cook-off

and Music Festival

WHEN: Noon to 10 p.m.

Saturday, June 15

WHERE: Somers Point Fire Company No. 1, 447 Bethel Road, Somers Point

HOW MUCH: $20 general admission or $30 for VIP tickets, which include early entry for an exclusive tasting at 11 a.m., special seating and partying areas near the stage.

MORE INFO: Call Tony Mart

Presents at 609-653-6069, email Tonymarto@aol.com or go to TonyMart.com.

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