Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Robert St. John: Harry's Homecoming

 I am a fan of first lines in books. But I also like last lines in movies. In the film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s, “Cannery Row,” John Huston— in one of the greatest film narrations this side of Morgan Freeman states that, “The world was once again spinning in greased grooves.” I don’t know if that line is in Steinbeck’s novel because I probably only read the Cliff’s Notes in high school, and hat was well over 40 years ago, but I know exactly what he was talking about. 

My son wants to make the restaurant business a career. It’s nothing that I pushed or encouraged. The restaurant business is brutal enough for people who are passionate about our industry, it is miserable for people who are only halfway dedicated (or those who are in it just for the money). So, I set up an eight-year plan, that he— for the most part— has been following for the past couple of years.

 He was to get a degree in business first. That four-year stretch of the plan is still in place, though we have called an audible. His second semester of college coincided with the onset of Covid. His college career for the next three semesters was filled with Zoom classes and challenges. This fall he seemed to be floundering a little and he kept expressing his desire to get out and start working in the industry. “We are going to stick to the plan we agreed upon,” I kept telling him. But around Christmas, he convinced me that taking a break for a bit and working in a kitchen for a while might serve to recharge his batteries.


That’s when Tuscany came into the picture. 


In 2011, I took my family over to Europe for six months. We all loved it, our lives changed during that time, and none of us have been the same since. Though I think it affected the boy the most. He was struck with a severe case of wanderlust and has traveled back to Tuscany, often. We all love that area. He probably loves at the most. So, I made a deal with him that we would skip his last year of college, if he promised that he would finish one day. I couldn’t say much because I had done the same thing (though I graduated high school in 1979, and finally walked at my college graduation ceremony as a part of the class of 2000).


He could work for a friend of mine in Tuscany for a few months before heading off to culinary school which would put him back on the eight-year plan. 


He got a one-bedroom, third-floor, walk-up apartment in the Santo Spirito neighborhood of Florence and took a 45-minute bus ride every day to the small town of Tavernelle to work for my friend Paolo and with his mother Giuliana, in the kitchen. That was five months ago. 


My wife and I spent six weeks over there in the spring while I was working hosting tours, and we got to see him often. He seemed to be thriving in that environment. He knew the area better than I, and I have spent a couple of months of every year there for the past several years. It was so refreshing to have him take us to his favorite places in Florence and introduced us to the new friends that he had made over there.


He seems to have matured five years in five months. It was definitely the right decision, and he is now ready to go off to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in September. There, he will resume the plan that we agreed-upon several years ago, and spend two years becoming a chef. After that, he will get out and work for friends of mine in the business for two years— first, in Chicago, then in New Orleans. Then, and only then, I told him he could come back to one of our restaurants. But he will start at the bottom just like everyone else. It won’t matter what his title is, where he has worked, or what his abilities are. He will start at the bottom and work his way up.


The beautiful part about the plan is that, if— anywhere along the way— he becomes disenchanted with the industry, or frustrated with the restaurant business, he will have weeded himself out early and saved everyone a lot of misery. So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. He seems to be very enthusiastic and excited about his potential future working in restaurants, and even more so than five months ago.


I picked him up at the airport two days ago. His flight was delayed in Washington DC, and he arrived late on Sunday night. He wanted American food. The plan was to go to my friend Susan Spicer‘s restaurant, Rosedale, where one can find the absolute best barbecue shrimp on the planet. But I had to cancel the reservation when the flight got delayed. So, we just spent the night at our apartment. I had Popeyes spicy fried chicken waiting for him when he came through the door. It’s a tradition I have always done. As soon as I land back in America after a long lengthy Italian tour, I hit the Popeyes in the Atlanta airport before coming home.


The next morning he was up early since his internal clock was still getting adjusted to a new time zone. That was great for me because it afforded us the opportunity to go to breakfast. Our favorite breakfast place in New Orleans is La Boulangerie bakery. We got in the car and drove from the Marigny to Magazine Street. We caught up with news from home and abroad and talked about what he had learned and what he had experienced. We talked about the recipes he gathered while he was there, and the things he cooked in Giuliana‘s kitchen. We will be putting many of those to use in the coming days.


He was excited to come home and spend the night in his own bed and to see his mother. This morning we got up and ate breakfast at The Midtowner. He and I have eaten breakfast together all over the world. When we took the long trip, the girls always slept late, but he and I always got up and ate breakfast together. We have so many good memories of breakfast in 72 European cities over that wonderful six-month period.


Though none of those breakfasts can compare to what he and I enjoyed this morning at our breakfast joint. He wanted eggs and bacon cooked the American way. He hadn’t eaten hashbrowns in almost a half a year and was looking forward to those. He also wanted a biscuit. He typically doesn’t eat bread, or at least much of it, but he tore that cathead biscuit up in one sitting.


A couple of friends showed up and we told stories. My son spoke about his journeys in Italy and throughout Europe. I pushed away from the counter and took in the scene as he spoke.  He seems as if he has matured five years in the past five months. The audible was the correct call.


Today’s breakfast was one that I will never forget. And, once again, the world is spinning in greased grooves.




I love pesto. It is one of my favorite flavor profiles— not only in Italian cooking, but— of all cuisines. It’s fresh tasting and clean. But it’s also light and extremely versatile. 

I keep pesto portioned into small batches in the freezer. It thaws quickly and is perfect for a quick supper. Just place the pesto in a bowl and add a little extra virgin olive oil. Remove your favorite noodle from the boiling water and toss in the pesto. Finish with some grated pecorino and call it dinner.

1/3 cup                Toasted pine nuts or almonds
2 cups                  Fresh basil leaves (2 oz. by weight)
1 TB           Minced garlic
pinch                   Kosher salt
¼ cup                  Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3 TB           Grated Pecorino Romano cheese
½ cup                  Extra virgin olive oil

Combine nuts, basil, garlic and salt in a food processor. Slowly add olive oil.  Remove and fold in cheese.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS