There’s a special bonding when mothers share recipes with their children. The fun, laughter and maybe a few “spilt-milk” tears in the kitchen bring the family together in a way that’s seldom forgotten.
Vicki Brooks, of Baton Rouge, is known by friends and neighbors as an extraordinary cook. Her culinary talent comes not only from a love of food, but from a long-standing family tradition of cooking together.
She considers herself blessed because she’s been fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom. Brooks, a native of New Roads, has a master’s degree in clinical chemistry. She met her husband, Dr. Jay Brooks, when he was attending LSU Medical School in New Orleans and she was a medical technologist at the city’s Methodist Hospital.
“His family’s from New Orleans, but they don’t cook. He always jokes that he was a culinary virgin until he married me,” she said, laughing.
Cooking came naturally to Vicki Brooks. Her parents, Joseph and Maudrie Theriot Grezaffi, both New Roads natives, imbued their children with respect for their Italian and Acadian heritage. Meals featured dishes from both cultures and sometimes combined the two. The Grezaffis later moved to Donaldsonville, where their three daughters grew up.
Today, when Vicki Brooks and her sisters, Marsha Bergeron, of Lakeland, and Sharon Bourgeois, of Baton Rouge, work together in a kitchen, it’s like a musical trio blending notes into a smooth melody.
As their mom watches, the trio moves smoothly from task to task, cutting, stirring and flavoring an array of aromatic dishes. Among their signature dishes is a succulent stewed chicken made with Louisiana’s “holy trinity” of onions, green pepper and celery.
Every bit as delicious is tomato sauce (souga) for spaghetti and meatballs. Vicki said “souga,” a term often used by families in Pointe Coupee, is an Italian word for gravy.
Maudrie Grezaffi smiles.
“My kids laugh at me because when I married, I didn’t know how to cook,” she said. “Now I have seven grandchildren and every one of them loves to cook.”
She also has five great-grandchildren, a new generation of potential culinary experts.
Watching carefully as meatballs simmered slowly in a huge pot of tomato sauce, Marsha Bergeron reminisced about visiting with their grandparents.
“I remember the Italian man who would come around and sell big, fresh black olives out of the back of his truck,” she said. “He also sold Romano cheese and salted dried chick peas. You could eat them as a snack.”
“My father’s father had a meat market in New Roads,” said Brooks.
She explained that the market and several houses made up a family compound where gatherings usually included big meals.
The sisters also remember their paternal grandmother, Josephine “Mama Sam” Grezaffi.
“She made a great lemon pie with wonderful meringue,” Bergeron said.
Sometimes there were fish fries with freshly caught sac-a-lait, bream and catfish.
Once in a while, the men would cook barbecued cabrito ( baby goat).
Sharon Bourgeois remembers enjoying stewed chicken and white beans for Sunday dinner at their grandparents, Florian and Edna Theriot. One of her favorite desserts was creamy French custard made with cornstarch, eggs, milk and sugar.
“As a child I loved it,” she said. “I would eat little bowls and more little bowls of it.”
“We have a lot of good memories that involve food,” said Bourgeois, whose creamy potato salad is popular at family camp gatherings.
Brooks stressed that their mother taught cooking really well.
“She taught us the basics. She taught us how to make a roux. She let us get in the kitchen when we were teenagers. This is not gourmet food; it’s what we grew up with,” Brooks continued as she arranged bowls and platters atop a counter.
Vicki and Jay Brooks have three children, Joshua, a landscape architect in Denver; B.J,, environmental consultant in Baton Rouge; and Dr. Megan Brooks, a hospitalist at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. All three cook. As her children were growing up, Vicki Brooks cooked early in the day to assure that her family had a hot meal at night. They always sat down together for dinner.
“I feel that because I cooked a variety of things my children were never picky eaters,” she noted. “It’s also contributed to their love of cooking and eating good food.
“My daughter and I love to get in the kitchen together. We’re foodies,” Brooks said. “We do a mother-daughter trip every year. This year, we’re going to the Aspen Food and Wine Festival in Colorado. I love to cook. I love to have the family here.”
Last Christmas, Vicki Brooks put together a cookbook of family recipes. It’s no surprise that the attractive book is in binder form with plenty of room for new recipes as they come along.
The tradition continues.