Benny Cenac – Houma-area businessman, philanthropist, mariner, and nature lover – wakes up every morning the same way: a cup of coffee, a smile, and a look out of his window to the Intracoastal Waterway. Terrebonne Parish makes up a small portion of the 1,050 mile-Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, but the standing legacy of the Gulf Coast on Southeastern Louisiana culture and ecosystem is what made Benny who he is today and guides his daily activities and interests.
Arlen “Benny” Cenac has lived in Houma nearly all his life, taking over his grandfather’s towing company Cenac Marine Services shortly after graduating from Nicholls State University. Born-and-bred in the Houma-area, Mr. Cenac has a number of suggestions for travelers new to town and looking to laissez les bon temps rouler.
Benny Cenac’s Favorite Places to Learn About Cajun Culture
For travelers new to the Houma-area, Benny suggests a quick walk through the permanent and temporary exhibits at the Terrebonne Museum. There, museumgoers can scour the old-timey photographs of sugar cane farmers and mariners in the Memories of Terrebonne exhibit before admiring the decorative Mardi Gras masks worn by local krewes. One of Cenac’s favorite exhibits is the Native Peoples of Louisiana, where onlookers can marvel at the intricately woven baskets and palmetto-wrapped blow guns crafted by Choctaw and Houma Native American tribes. For those looking to incorporate Cajun customs and traditional Native American designs, Benny highly recommends events at the Terrebonne Folklife Culture Center, located in the heart of Houma’s historic district. There, attendees can try their hand at popular crafts: woodcarving, duck decoy carving, Cajun jam sessions, and other artistic outlets. The Folklife Center hosts multiple permanent exhibits highlighting the rich culture of the area—the interactive Cajun Tool Shed for kids, the Native American Artifacts exhibit, the Louisiana Decoys exhibit, and other changing demonstrations.
Benny Cenac’s Favorite Museum about the Gulf Coast
Boating is in Benny Cenac’s blood. Even before he took over his family’s towing business – Cenac Marine Towing – at 27 years old, Benny felt an overwhelming connection to the Gulf Coast. The Bayou Terrebonne Waterlife Museum celebrates the relationship between the water and those who rely on water for their occupation and livelihood. The museum preserves and promotes the region’s extensive, historically relevant cultural and economic ties with the surrounding water environment: seafood, water transportation, water-based hunting, gathering and mining industries. Benny Cenac suggests walking through the interactive displays with family and friends—learning how early Louisiana settlers relied on the Gulf for fishing, oystering, and shrimping, before growing and establishing the region as the heart of water-based recreation and the onshore and offshore oil and gas industries. Visitors could spend hours transfixed on the ‘wetlands wall,’ a 46-foot curving mural representing the eco-line of Terrebonne Parish, from the Gulf of Mexico’s deep-water barrier islands through saltwater marshes, brackish shores, the estuary system, freshwater lakes, and “high country.” The exhibit on alligators and alligator farming is the crown jewel of the museum—after all, Cenac spent years working with stakeholders to ensure the American black alligator came off the Endangered Species List.
Benny Cenac, College Student-at-heart, Enjoys Nicholls State University Cultural Programming
Mr. Cenac graduated from Nicholls State University in 1979, continues to be deeply involved with his alma mater—funding an endowed chair, golf carts for the Bridge program, the Oh La La Theatre Series, the new culinary arts building, and more. Nicholls University visitors can scour the Chauvin Sculpture Garden and Nicholls State University Art Studio and see the beautiful, student-made works and sculptures by local artist Kenny Hill. The vividly-colored art pieces are set against the shimmering shades of green so synonymous with the Bayou. Other evenings, Benny suggests watching renditions of Broadway plays and musical numbers at Nicholls’ Mary and Al Danos Theater. Mr. Cenac is particularly excited for the War Bonds: Songs and Letters of World War II and the Tribute to Aretha Franklin concert coming to Oh La La this season.
Benny Cenac’s Favorite Houma-area Places for Good Cajun Eats
Festivals are an integral part of Louisiana culture—and most of the area’s festivals celebrate the unique cuisine privy to the region: gumbo, jambalaya, beignets, fresh seafood, duck, and other delicacies. Benny and his teams at Cenac Marine and Main Ironworks have sponsored many food booths, even winning the top-prize at the Roux for a Reason Charity event for two years in a row! The Cenac family published a cookbook of their favorite Cajun recipes that have been passed along for generations—but it’s the gumbo that keeps everyone coming back for more. A few months ago, Benny even had a chance to share his recipe and cook his famous gumbo in Nicholls University’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchen alongside world-renowned Chef John Folse. While various festivals pepper are on schedule every weekend, some recommendations include the French Food Festival, Roux for A Reason Gumbo cookoff, and the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival right in town.
On non-festival days, Benny suggests visitors check out Melvins Restaurant for steaming Gulf seafood and other dishes showcasing the region’s bounty. A great number of Italians emigrated to Louisiana in the 19th century—and the influence lives on today. Benny Cenac also recommends the myriad of Italian specialties at West Main Pizza and Spaghetti House for Houma travelers looking for a bite to eat after a long day on the land and Gulf Coast.