Once Dr. Nia Terezakis’ patients get answers about their dermatology issues, they are likely to follow up with a question about a recipe or art.
That’s because the dermatologist, who has offices in Gonzales and Metairie, recently produced a beautiful 248-page cookbook, “Artful Feast: An Elegant Lifestyle for Dining” (Browncroft Publishing Co., $80) that features her favorite recipes and the art that fills her New Orleans home.
Terezakis, who grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, as the daughter of Greek immigrant parents, planned to be an interior designer and art teacher. She graduated from Huntington College in Montgomery with a degree in art. “My Greek daddy wouldn’t let me go away to school, and Huntington College got me everywhere I needed to go.”
She married, but within a year was widowed when her husband was killed in an accident. “When George died, our family doctor suggested I go to medical school and offered to help.” (His wife had been her biology teacher.) She was one of only two women accepted to the Tulane School of Medicine Class of 1962.
Even though she had little money or free time, Terezakis cooked for other medical students and graduate students. “I’d entertain at breakfast. I didn’t know anyone here and I wanted to meet people. I’ve been cooking my entire life. When I was in junior high school, Daddy said, ‘You have to fix breakfast for the family,’ and I did, every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.”
Her father, Christopher Katechis, had emigrated from Corfu, Greece, as a young man. “My father had an uncle who had immigrated and had a little restaurant in Montgomery. My dad and two cousins came (to the U.S.) and bought his uncle out. They sold hots dogs and hamburgers at Chris’ Hot Dogs on Dexter Avenue. My brother still operates it. They are the best hot dogs in the world. Each wiener is individually grilled.”
Her mother’s parents, like almost all the Greeks in Montgomery, also were in the restaurant business. “Interestingly, none of the restaurants served Greek dishes, but traditional cuisine was served in all of the Greek homes,” Terezakis writes in her cookbook.
Terezakis, her sister and three brothers all helped with food preparations at home and learned how to make traditional Greek food.
She has dedicated her cookbook to her late mother, Anastasia “Annie” Cumuze Katechis, who Terezakis says “still influences many aspects of my life.”
Her mother and grandmother passed down cooking techniques and ideas for embellishing simple dishes to allow for spur-of-the-moment entertaining, she said, stirring a pot on the stove with a well-worn spoon from her grandmother.
Terezakis says the goal of her cookbook is to help readers embrace the “attitude of celebrating food as an art form to shared with those we love.” She says elegant dining doesn’t have to mean elaborate recipes, that with creative organization it is possible “to entertain spontaneously without a lot of hassle in the kitchen.”
She often uses shortcuts, like purchasing cooked chicken from grocery stores to add to salads, or embellishing a prepared dish she’s picked up from a restaurant. For example, when entertaining a large group, she might buy several 8-inch-by-10-inch pans of roasted corn grits from Zea’s Rotisserie and Grill and then add her touches to the dish. She likes to keep them in her freezer so she can hold a brunch at a moment’s notice.
And, she has no qualms about changing the ingredients in a recipe. For example, instead of using the called-for blueberries in her Steamed Vegetables With Shredded Chicken, she substituted chunks of new potatoes boiled in vermouth and seasoned with plenty of herbs.
Unlike most shoppers who look for just-ripened bananas, Terezakis goes to the grocery store in search of overripe bananas so she can make Baked Bananas in Jackets. “I don’t serve them as a dessert, but as a vegetable.
“They’re wonderful with veal or a pork roast. They are so sweet they taste as though you have injected them with syrup.” But, she added, the baked bananas can be turned into a dessert with a bit of warm chocolate syrup and a dash of cinnamon.
Among her most requested recipes is Green Rice. “It’s a beautiful buffet dish. I like it as a leftover. You can add leftover chicken or shrimp.”
Terezakis also enjoys using her lovely collection of artisan-made ceramic and pottery serving pieces.
Many of them are shown in her cookbook, which is illustrated with beautiful full-color photographs and features silver-leaf page edges, a silver ribbon for marking recipes, and a decorative linen box. (To purchase “Artful Feast,” go to artfulfeastcookbook.com or call (504) 454-2997 or (877) 702-5227.)
The note that Terezakis uses to sign her cookbook sums up her philosophy about cooking and design: “Good food soothes the senses — but great art awakens & fuels the soul.”