Monday, February 10, 2014

Local Meteorologist, Former YATS Star Chairs Gumbo Cook-Off

By Don Redman

An alumnus of Slidell Little Theatre’s young actors program, WWL-TV meteorologist Alexandra Cranford is the Honorary Chairwoman of the 5th Annual Northshore Gumbo Cook-Off benefitting youth programs sponsored by Slidell Little Theatre and the Northshore Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction.

A participant in the Young Actors Theatre of Slidell program – YATS – Cranford appeared in several youth productions in the late 1990s to early 2000s.

Alexandra Cranford
I was the lead character Do-Nothing-Dale in The Magic in Me; the evil witch in Rapunzel; and in many other YATS plays,” recalls Cranford. “I loved my years in Slidell Little Theatre’s YATS program. The process is so memorable: auditioning, finding out which role you’re cast in, memorizing lines, rehearsing, assembling your costume. I especially loved the live performances; it was so rewarding to see the final production emerge after weeks of hard work in rehearsals.”

Cranford adds that live theatre, even at an early age, gave her the courage to explore beyond her comfort zone and provided her with skills she still uses today.

“Community theatre was a wonderful thing for me as a kid,” she says. “I’m naturally pretty quiet and reserved, and the theatre gave me a place to break out of my shell a little. It made me realize that doing things in front of an audience isn’t scary – it can be interesting and satisfying. And that applies to my career today. Back then I performed in plays; today I deliver forecasts in a newscast. Learning to adlib comes in handy today, too, especially since weather people don’t use TelePrompTers!”

A native of Slidell, Cranford attended St. Margaret Mary Catholic School and Slidell High and graduated summa cum laude in 2009 from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge where she served as Chief Forecaster for LSU’s campus news program and worked in a Biological Sciences Laboratory as part of her LSU Chancellor’s Scholarship.

A baker at heart, Cranford says even though she grew up with gumbo and loves it to this day, she has never attempted to make it. “I like to cook, but somehow I’ve never tried to make my own gumbo,” she says. “I’m better at baking. I’ve made quite a few bread puddings, which I think of as the dessert version of gumbo. They’re both rich and southern, and each one is a little different.”

But when she does decide to make her own gumbo, she’ll likely turn for advice from her personal favorite gumbo king – her dad.

“My dad is the gumbo specialist in my family,” says Cranford. “He even makes his own gumbo filé from local sassafras leaves. When I was a kid, the filé made me sneeze. Now I love it!”

Whether with filé or with okra, Cranford says she really isn’t too choosey about her gumbo, just as long as it has seafood in it. “I love shrimp, oysters, crabs, anything from the water,” she says.

The Northshore Gumbo Cook-Off will be held Saturday, March 22, 2014 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the grounds of the Bethany Lutheran Church at the corner of 8th Street and Gause Boulevard in Slidell.

Team registration is currently being accepted; applications are available online at The cost to register a team is $75.00. Business sponsorship opportunities are available, too. Email your questions to or call (985) 960-1177 or (985) 285-0737.
 Admission is $10 and children age 10 and under are free. Admission entitles you to unlimited gumbo samplings, voting privileges for People’s Choice Award, live musical entertainment and more.

Funds raised through the annual Northshore Gumbo Cook-Off will be shared equally between the two non-profit organizations to help each organization expand its local outreach projects that will enrich the lives of more than 17,000 school-age children, young adults and seniors in our community.

SLT will direct its proceeds toward the “Next Stage” project that will allow the Theatre to expand and add to its young actors theatre program. The Northshore NAWIC chapter will utilize its proceeds to allow the organization to expand programs like Block Kids, CAD and hand drafting contests, college scholarships and more.
The Northshore’s premier community theatre since 1963, Slidell Little Theatre is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to engaging, educating, and involving members of the community in high quality theatrical productions. SLT is supported by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the St. Tammany Commission on Cultural Affairs.
 Slidell Little Theatre – where the magic comes to life!

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