Tableside with Restaurant Reviewer Louise Terzia

Whether it’s a cheese dip contest, dinner in a cabin, a potluck, a new restaurant or a roadside stand with fresh produce for sale, Louise Terzia will be there. It’s not her job, just more like a lifelong love affair with food.

Soirée: Where were you born and raised? What was your childhood like? Did you always like food? What were your favorites?

Terzia: I was born in Monroe, Louisiana, but we also lived in Shreveport and Ruston—I’m definitely a north Louisiana girl.

I had a great childhood. My friends and I had lots of freedom to ride our bikes to the Indian mound or Phillips Lake, or we would wander through the woods. As for food, there were many skilled cooks in our family, but the source of most of our family food traditions came from my grandmother, Daisy Terzia.

Daisy liked to keep her grandchildren busy, so we shelled peas, shucked corn, picked up pecans and cracked them. I’d ride along to her special sources for Ruston peaches and big bushel baskets of mayhaws. Mayhaws are like a cross between crabapples and cranberries, and they make the finest jelly I’ve ever had. We always had mayhaw jelly at family dinners to go with the little yeast rolls. My friend, John Ragsdale, just told me that he has some mayhaws in his freezer—we’re going to get together to make jelly this month.

I loved the great, fresh food we had in season—homegrown tomatoes, corn on the cob, butter beans, collard and turnip greens. And we ate all the treats my mother loved, like avocados, mushrooms, artichokes, canned asparagus, things lots of kids wouldn’t eat. Favorite desserts were lemon icebox pie, peach shortcake and homemade ice cream.

When did you learn to cook and who taught you?

I liked hanging out in the kitchen. I was either watching and trying to help or making up my own recipes. In about fourth grade, my next-door neighbor and I had cake-making contests. Hers invariably came out perfect and neat; my cakes would have big cracks that I’d camouflage with gobs of icing and flowers from the yard.

I noticed you wrote a piece in the inaugural Arkansauce, The Journal of Arkansas Foodways, published by the Special Collections Department of the University of Arkansas Libraries. Do you think this is a venture that will last?

I hope so. The first issue is a treat! Editor Rex Nelson did a great job. I was so flattered to be asked to contribute along with the real writers. Arkansas has such a wealth of untold stories and folks who can spin some fine tales.

Tell us about your history of dabbling in cooking professionally. You work at Historic Arkansas Museum. What kind of food was around in 1825ish in Little Rock?

I helped my friend, Chef Jay Baxter, back when Nancy Newell was serving Southern suppers at the Ten Mile House. I retired long ago; I’m better suited to being an amateur!

At Historic Arkansas Museum, every day we tell the story of 19th century life through foodways. It’s fascinating how modern Southern cuisine still has connections to traditions from Africa and Europe and also to the original native cultures. We almost always feature food in our events. A lot of the museum staff are adventuresome diners and cooks.

Tell me about Southern Foodways. How long have you been involved in it?

The Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) is part of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss. Historic Arkansas Museum has been a member for quite a few years. It’s an amazing group of smart, talented, generous people who are chefs, food writers, restaurant owners, critics, professors or adventuresome eaters. In the winter of 2006, I got more involved when about 200 of us from around the country helped restore Willie Mae’s Scotch House, an historic restaurant in the Treme district of New Orleans.

I love the mission: “The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor, all who gather, may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.”

What have you been eating lately?

Those of us working downtown love having great places to eat in the River Market District and Argenta, so I’m a regular at Copper Grill and Starving Artist Café. The chefs at the Capital Hotel have splendid dinners that I get to go to occasionally. Chef Lee Richardson is doing remarkable things with Arkansas-grown ingredients. He’s committed to supporting small local farmers who produce organic eggs and humanely raised livestock. And what a kitchen!

It’s not a coincidence that the food scene in Arkansas improved when so many New Orleans restaurant folks like Lee came here after Katrina.

Anything you want to say, go for it.

I’m excited that we are partnering with the Capital Hotel on some of their Town and Country Culinary Weekends. The first weekend in June, Chef Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner Restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, will be in town. On Friday, June 3, the Country Dinner will be held on the porch of our log house. Saturday, June 4, the Town Dinner will be at Ashley’s.

I first met Bill Smith when we were using crowbars to peel soggy plywood off Willie Mae’s walls in New Orleans. Later I found out that he is recognized as one of the best chefs in the south. He is also one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.

Bill’s cookbook “Seasoned in the South” was chosen as a Best of the Best by Food and Wine Magazine, and it was featured in The New York Times. His restaurant was nominated for the James Beard Best Restaurant in the United States Award.

I can’t wait for him to see our vibrant food community with the great work Jody Hardin is doing in Scott and Argenta, the tacquerias in southwest Little Rock, the beautiful produce that the Loatian and Vietnamese farmers bring to the River Market on Saturdays, and, of course, Lee Richardson, Tandra Watkins and all the rest of the culinary team at the Capital Hotel.

This is a great time for our community in Little Rock and North Little Rock. We have so much to be proud of and to treasure.



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