Home » Judice puts her own twist on recipes when cooking for family, farm crew | Etc.

Judice puts her own twist on recipes when cooking for family, farm crew | Etc.

Q: I stalk you on Facebook, because you post such mouth watering food pictures. How did cooking start for you?

RENEE: (laughs) I like to post pictures of what I’m cooking on Facebook. I really started cooking when I married my husband, Ricky, and we had a family. I’m originally from Oklahoma, and my dad, J.O. Thomas worked for Mobil, so when I was in fifth grade or so, we moved to Morgan City. My mom, Boots Thomas, cooked, but it was beans and cornbread and that kind of thing. I never had gumbo in my mother’s house, so that was something I had to learn later on.

Q: You mom’s name was Boots? I bet there’s a story behind that…

RENEE: Yep. Her real name is Guelda, and nobody knew how to pronounce it, so everyone called her “Boots,” since she was a baby. She was the youngest of four siblings, two girls and two boys, and when one of the other kids was asked,”Do you love your new baby sister?” the replay was “You bet your boots!” The nickname stuck.

Q: So tell me how you and your husband Ricky met.

RENEE: I was working at a state job, with Ricky’s sister, Marguerite Mestayer. I met her family through my friendship with her, and her sister Cindy. It was funny, I was dating other guys, and I just knew I was going to marry Ricky. Marguerite would say, “You can have my brother.” If I broke up with somebody, I’d just say, “It doesn’t matter, I’m going to marry Ricky.” I just knew it. This was before I even called him. Yes, I called him. It wasn’t what girls did, but I did it. We started dating, got married in 1978 — 43 years this April.

Q: And the cooking started…?

RENEE: I had to go with what I knew, or find recipes to learn. One of my first dishes out of my comfort range was crabmeat au gratin out of the Talk About Good cookbook. As we had the boys and we were busy, I cooked easy stuff, hot dogs, burgers, pizza. I do pizza with my grandkids now. They even have a chef’s hat and an apron they wear.

Because Ricky is a sugar cane farmer, we feed the crew that works the three-week planting season for us. I started out buying them fast food for lunch. At one of my son’s football games, another of the farmers’ wives wondered why I wasn’t cooking for the men. So I stopped buying burgers (my son Mark, who helps on the farm, mentioned that they were sick of fast food anyway) and started making the men’s lunches, 14 a day. At first it was difficult, but I made it into a game — how could I make this faster? What would make it more organized? They’re pretty simple, beans and rice, some kind of meat, salad, vegetables, plus I like to put in a little dessert for them; cake or some cookies. I use my oven a lot, and layer the flavors — instead of browning just one kind of meat, I’ll do three or four, that way I’m cooking for several meals at once. Gravies and sauces simmer in the oven, so they can cook longer and develop flavor without too much fuss. One year, we had 21 men working. I managed to do it, but afterward I told my farmer we needed to stick to 14.

Q: You seem to be an instinctive cook, do you ever use recipes?

RENEE: I do. I watch the Food Network to see their recipes, but I’m usually saying, “I can do this the Renee way, add his, change that a little.” I just make up a lot of my recipes. I might try a new way of cooking something, using whatever I have on hand, and serve it to my farmer. If he likes it, I tell him, “Great, but you may never have this again!” I like cooking soups, gumbos, etouffee. A favorite is Date Night. Every so often, I cook a five-course meal, soup to dessert. It’s usually steak and potatoes, which Ricky really enjoys. He also likes soup & gumbo, but he likes them kinda watery. I like the cream soups and thicker gumbo. He’ll eat that, but I know he doesn’t necessarily prefer them.

Q: Have you ever cooked something that just didn’t work?

RENEE: Well, there were the donuts. I remembered I loved donuts growing up. I tried to make them, and they just weren’t that good. I don’t know if it was that the recipe wasn’t good, or that I just wasn’t a little girl any more. I occasionally burn toasted nuts or make blackened croutons by mistake, but that’s really as bad as it might get.