st john

Over twenty years ago my hometown newspaper called my office and asked if I would be interested in writing a weekly column. I begged off. They called again, and again, and again. I finally said, “yes.” It was a dubious beginning.

I was almost 40-years old when I began this weekly column. 

The first columns were bad. Really bad. Some probably think they’re still bad. Fair enough.

I had shown a proficiency for writing in high school, but spent the next 20 years focused on restaurants and everything having to do with restaurants. Over the course of those two decades, it was a labor for me to even write a letter to someone.

A few years in, I returned to college and began taking courses in writing. After a several semesters I enrolled in a few graduate level courses. The column began to get a little better. More newspapers began to carry the column. The more I wrote, the more comfortable I became. Eventually I developed a passion for it.

I grew as a writer. I spent the first eight years writing in a voice that wasn’t even mine. It was a rookie mistake, and one that would typically be made in someone’s early 20s. Eventually I found my voice. It was around that time that I signed a three-book deal with a national publisher in New York. Today, over one thousand columns, a million column-words, eleven books, and several side projects later, it’s become an additional career — and one that I love.

The first national recognition I received for something I had written came in a very inauspicious manner — through personal annoyance. In the late 1990s I was attending a dinner at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival. My wife and I were seated with two couples we had never met. One of the ladies asked what type restaurants we owned and where they were located. After explaining that one of the concepts was a fine dining restaurant in Mississippi, she made the snide remark, “Mississippi doesn’t have fine dining restaurants.”

The day is memorable because it was the first time something like that had happened to me and I didn’t automatically reel off my laundry list set of awe-inspiring Mississippi facts — William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Elvis, BB King, Muddy Waters, on and on and on and on. Instead, I just kept my mouth shut. Why go on a PR rant with this woman, I thought to myself?

I have always been frustrated by the stereotypical way that the South is portrayed in movies and television. A guy with an accent like mine walks into an office in Los Angeles or New York and as soon as I open my mouth, I’m seen as Gomer Pyle or Jethro Bodine. To many, the south is divided into two worlds — Big Daddy sitting on the porch, in a rocking chair, drinking a mint julep, in a seersucker suit, or the poor, barefooted kid, walking down a dirt road.

That Aspen event weighed heavily in my mind for a week or so. I sat down in my chair one day and, in 15 minutes, wrote the piece that sort of started this other career of mine. It was called “My South.” Someone cut-and-pasted the column from one of my newspapers and emailed it to several friends. Those friends emailed it to more friends. It turned into a viral email before I even knew what that term meant. Within a week I had hundreds of emails in my inbox from people who identified with the sentiment of the piece.

The Turner South network purchased the non-exclusive rights to use the My South piece in their imaging and branding. I signed a deal with Rutledge Hill Press to release a book based on the piece. Another book of collected writings was released. For the next 10 years I ended every speech by reading the piece. I eventually mothballed it.

  

 Deviled Eggs x3

For the hard-boiled eggs: Place 24 eggs in a large pot. Add cool water, enough to cover the eggs by two inches. Add one tablespoon of salt to the water. Place the pot on high heat and cook for 20 minutes. Drain the water from the eggs and cover completely with ice water. Peel eggs once they are cool enough to handle. Store covered and refrigerated if they are not going to be used immediately.

 Smokey Bacon and Cheddar Deviled Eggs

8 Large Hard-Cooked Eggs, peeled

1/3 cup Mayonnaise

1 tsp Yellow Mustard

1 1/2 tsp Honey

1/4 teaspoon Salt

1/4 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 TBL Fresh Chives, slice very thin, divided

3 strips Bacon, good quality, cooked until crisp and chopped fine

2 TBL Sharp Cheddar Cheese, finely shredded

Halve the eggs lengthwise. Gently remove the yolks and place them in a small mixing bowl. Reserve the whites.

Use a fork and smash the yolks together with the mayonnaise, yellow mustard, honey, salt, black pepper, and half of the chives. Once the mixture is smooth, fold in the bacon and cheese. Fill each half of the egg whites with the yolk mixture and garnish each one with the remaining chives. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield:16 pieces

Creole Crabmeat 

Deviled Eggs

8 Large Hard-Cooked Eggs, peeled

2 TBL Mayonnaise

2 tsp Creole Mustard

1 TBL Lemon Juice, 

1/8 tsp  Creole Seasoning

1/4 tsp Hot Sauce

1 TBL Pimento, very finely chopped,patted dry

2 tsp Red Onion, very finely minced

1/3 pound  Lump Crabmeat, picked thoroughly to remove shells and cartilage

2 tsp Chopped Parsley

Halve the eggs lengthwise. Gently remove the yolks and place them in a small mixing bowl. Reserve the whites.

Use a fork and smash the yolks together with the mayonnaise, Creole mustard, lemon juice, Creole seasoning, and hot sauce. Once the yolk mixture is smooth, fold in the pimento, red onion and crab meat.

Fill each half of the egg whites with the yolk mixture and garnish each one with the chopped parsley. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield:16 pieces 

ROBERT ST. JOHN  is a father, husband, restauranteur, chef, author, columnist, world-class eater.

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