Coming to lite

Nancy Rabalais of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium was one of nine winners of the 17th annual Heinz Award.

photo courtesy heinzawards.net

LAFAYETTE – The Academy of Interactive Entertainment, a technical school specializing in video game, 3-D and animation effects and design, will open in the beginning of 2012 at the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, or LITE, Center in ULL’s Research Park. School and government officials predict this training center will help create a work force capable of meeting the region’s increased demand for qualified employees in the field of digital media.

Lafayette will mark the AIE’s second U.S. campus (Seattle being the other), a distinction made partially because of Louisiana’s thriving film production industry.

Beyond gaming and entertainment, the interactive arts disciplines offered at the AIE have been used in fields such as engineering, architecture, urban development and various other sciences such as biotechnology.

The $27 million LITE Center opened in 2006 as a 3-D immersive visualization and high-performance computing resource center, hosting clients in commercial industry, government and university sectors. The facility features a comprehensive set of advanced visualization systems that was conceived as a magnet for economic development. In 2009, Los Angeles-based visual effect studio Pixel Magic leased space in the LITE Center and has since used that location as a second permanent home.

Eagle Eyes

HOUMA – In the new book Eyes of an Eagle, Christopher E. Cenac Sr. documents the history of a prominent French family’s founding legacy in the Gulf Coast seafood industry while painting a vivid picture of life in Terrebonne Parish during the Civil War and the Reconstruction era.

In 1860, Jean-Pierre Cenac sailed from the upper-crust French city of Bordeaux to begin his new life in New Orleans – at the time, the city with the second busiest port of debarkation in the United States. Neither Creole nor Acadian, Cenac eventually settled down in Terrebonne Parish. His resolute nature, unflagging work ethic, steadfast determination and farsighted vision earned him a place of respect he could never have imagined when he left his native country.

Christopher Cenac spent more than a decade researching his ancestral roots. Eyes of an Eagle has been named an official Louisiana Bicentennial book and will be promoted by the state’s Bicentennial Commission throughout 2012 – the 200th anniversary of Louisiana’s inclusion as one of the United States.

The hardcover 305-page book, published by University Press of Mississippi, was formally launched in September 2011 at an unveiling at the Main Terrebonne Library. One of the invited guests was filmmaker Glen Pitre, who wrote of Cenac’s book, “The story of one special man becomes the story of a family, then a region, then an industry, then finally the story of America in a turbulent time when newcomers were flooding our shore with their ambition and innovation.”

Local Researcher Wins Heinz Award

COCODRIE – An accomplished researcher and an authority regarding environmental issues evolving in the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, Nancy Rabalais of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium was one of nine winners of the 17th annual Heinz Award.

Presented by the Heinz Family Foundation, the Heinz Award acknowledges those whose professional contributions have aided or brought awareness to the environment. The recognition comes with a $100,000 award for each winner. “Dr. Rabalais’ hard work, research and courage have driven remarkable discoveries in what we know about dead zones – one of the most significant environmental problems facing the oceans,” Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation, said in a release. “She simultaneously advances the state of our knowledge of the causes and consequences of dead zones and helps develop public and private responses to those challenges.”

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico traditionally occurs during the Midwest farming season when fertilizer runs off into the Mississippi River and travels south. The chemicals and nutrients in the fertilizer aid rapid algae growth in the Gulf, which in turn consumes massive amounts of oxygen in the water – ultimately causing fish to desert those areas.

Rabalais’ research has been used to analyze and understand the characteristics of these man-made dead zones. Rabalais’ studies were included in the 2010 documentary Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story.    
 
Cultural Districts Named in Cajun Country

GRAND COTEAU – The community of Grand Coteau – home to the Academy of the Sacred Heart and several other religious and historical landmarks – was recently granted Cultural District status by the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. Grand Coteau was one of eight areas to receive the distinction. The others included the towns of Breaux Bridge, Denham Springs and Donaldsonville. The Highland community of Shreveport, the Old South Baton Rouge area and all of Ascension Parish were also added.

In an effort to increase tourism and commerce, customers shopping in Cultural Districts do not have to pay sales tax on certain items and properties can receive tax credits because of their historical significance.

Mulate’s Is Now Pont Breaux’s

BREAUX BRIDGE – The original Mulate’s Restaurant, a popular tourist destination and culinary landmark for years, has reopened under new management with a new name – Pont Breaux’s Cajun Restaurant.

New co-owner Jimmy LaGrange served as Mulate’s manager for more than two decades before deciding to purchase the place from the family of late founder Goldie Comeaux and give it a makeover in the fall of 2011. LaGrange and fellow co-owner, Randy LeBlanc, shut the doors for only a few days during the transition while they freshened up the menu with new items (most notably steaks) and tweaked popular Cajun dishes.

What hasn’t changed is the foot-stomping sideshow to the meal – the ever-popular Cajun music acts that frequent the joint every night of the week. In fact, the Lee Benoit Band ensured that the music played on by performing at Pont Breaux’s ribbon-cutting in Breaux Bridge.

The switch in Breaux Bridge has no impact on the Mulate’s restaurant in New Orleans, its sole remaining location.

Cochon, Take 2

LAFAYETTE – In a town of ever-growing dining options, renowned chef Donald Link tossed his hat in the ring with the opening of Cochon in River Ranch. This second location (the first Cochon opened on New Orleans’ Tchoupitoulas Street in the mid-2000s) will be co-owned by chef Stephen Stryjewski. The Lafayette kitchen will be led by chef Kyle Waters.

The property, surrounded by trees and overlooking the Vermilion River, features a 2,000-square-foot deck, a bar with an eating capacity up to 50, a dining room larger than the original Cochon in New Orleans’ Warehouse District and a terrace adorned with citrus trees where guests can order food from the full menu.

Link, a Crowley native, has been honored twice by the James Beard Foundation – arguably the most prestigious cooking association. In 2007, Link won a James Beard Award as Best Chef South for his work as executive chef of Herbsaint in New Orleans. Two years later, Link picked up another Beard Award for his 2009 cookbook, Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana.

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