Emmett Benoit, Esther Hollier among those named Cajun Award recipients

Published 12:06 am Thursday, October 12, 2023

WINNIE — The 53rd Annual Texas Rice Festival’s Cajun Award recipients this year honored four individuals, two of whom have ties to Port Arthur and Mid County.

The two local awardees are Esther Benoit of Esther’s Seafood restaurant, a popular eatery under the Rainbow Bridge, and Emmett Hollier, president and founder of Southeast Texas Circle of Hope and more.

As a young girl, food has always played a major role in Esther Benoit’s family. A Lafayette, Louisiana native, Benoit and her Cajun family moved to Port Arthur when she was 6 and in 1958 she married John Benoit.

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“Together they have a saying … ‘Cajun people were put on this earth to feed people,’” according to her bio on the Texas Rice Festival website.

In 1987, they floated a restaurant from Cameron, Louisiana, to the foot of the Rainbow Bridge in Port Arthur.

Benoit is known for spreading the Cajun culture with her food. She has earned a number of awards through the years such as Best Restaurant and Best Gumbo and has been the topic of numerous published articles in Texas Monthly, Southern Living and Coastal Living, according to the Rice Festival.

Emmett Hollier grew up in Groves, graduated from Port Neches-Groves High School in 1979 and has lived in Nederland for more than 33 years, according to his bio on the Texas Rice Festival website.

Besides being president and founder of Southeast Texas Circle of Hope, a nonprofit with a mission to assist those in need with funds for catastrophic events, medical and/or funeral needs, Hollier is also active in the Patriot Guard Riders-Golden Triangle and took part in the Run for the Wall in 2018.

The Run for the Wall recognizes and brings awareness to the sacrifices and contributions made by all Veterans who served our nation, as noted in his bio.

Another tie to Mid County was award recipient Jim Braud.

The late Braud, of Beaumont, had extended family from Thibodeaux, Louisiana, and he embraced his Cajun culture, according to his bio.

After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, he earned a degree in photography and minor in art from the University of Houston and settled in Port Neches, where he worked at a local refinery and opened Braud Camera Company.

After attending a Crawfish Festival in 1965 in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, he and others worked to bring a similar event to the area. The next year the first Crawfish Festival was held in Port Neches.

Braud, A.J. Judice and Buddy Porter put on the first crawfish races, and the three were named Honorary Crawfish Racing Commissioners of Texas by then Texas Governor Preston Smith.

Charles Michael “Mike” Burch of Tyler is known for playing drums for Wayne Toup’s Zydecajun for the past 35 years.

He also takes time to promote and inspire other drummers and “countless Cajun performers and band members,” according got his bio.

The festival began in 1969 and is in celebration of the rice harvest in Winnie, according to information from the festival website.