Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Robert St. John: Another Blessing

 This morning I read a Business News Daily article that listed the most stressful jobs in America. Enlisted military personnel came first, firefighter, second, and airline pilot, third. Police officer landed in fourth place. I wouldn’t argue with any of those rankings. 

Broadcaster came in fifth. I'm not sure I agree with that. Before I got into the restaurant business, I spent four years as a radio station disc jockey. I can tell you that, other than the first couple of shifts— when I was so nervous, I was physically shaking— it was one of the easiest jobs I’ve ever had. With apologies to all my friends in the media, I'm not sure broadcaster even belongs in the top 50 of most stressful jobs (with the definite exception of war correspondents in the field). Newspaper reporters came in seventh. I don't agree with that one either. Public relations executives also made the top ten. Sorry but I must argue again. I am sure they were thinking of crisis management in a PR sense, but that is situational. Taxi driver came in at number 10. Last week I was in several taxis in New York. Those guys didn't seem worried about anything.


There was no mention of restaurateur. It just goes to show you that, Simone Johnson, the author of the article for Business News Daily, has no clue as to what is involved in the opening a restaurant, or its daily operations. 


Event coordinator did come in at number six. I get it. I've done a lot of catering over the last 40 years, and in addition to the hundreds of little things that can go wrong during a major catering event (we almost blew up the garage of a wedding reception once— another story for another day), you are typically dealing with people at they're most anxious. Most people don't entertain very often so it's a stressful thing. In turn it becomes a stressful thing for the event coordinator. So, for the purposes of this column, I will assume that event coordinator also includes restaurateur, which puts those of us crazy enough to be passionate about this profession as the sixth most stressful job.


I'm in the middle of my 24th restaurant opening in the past 40 years. I believe it's truly one of the most stressful things anyone could ever do (or at least sixth most stressful). I imagine from an outsider’s perspective one would look at opening a restaurant as, “why not just teach the cooks the recipes, tell the front-of-the-house staff how you want them to serve the tables, and just let guests file in.” How awesome it would be if it were that simple.


The opening of a new restaurant is demanding, taxing, tiring, fraught with potential disaster around every corner, and I love every minute of it. There are so many moving parts and so many opportunities to drop the ball. Though the older I get— and the longer I stay in this business— I see those as opportunities to win guests over. Mistakes are going to happen, and especially during the honeymoon period in the early stages of a restaurant. It’s not about the mistakes, it’s about how the mistakes are handled. If four decades in the restaurant business has taught me anything, it’s that a bad guest experience, handled properly at the table, can turn into a situation that wins a customer over, and sometimes more so than if they just enjoyed a flawless meal. It’s not about the mistake. It’s about how the mistake is handled. 


This most recent opening was a unique one. We took over an existing restaurant in Ridgeland, Mississippi that had been in business for 12 years. They shut the doors one day, and we took over the entire restaurant the next day. Two weeks later— after a major deep-clean, some redecorating, re-concepting, service training, and recipe and menu development— we reopened with a new concept. 


Our primary goal, from day one, was to retain all the current team members. We paid them through the entire two-week shutdown, and I am proud to say that we were able to keep every member of the team employed. That made this opening a little easier than most, but when you get down to it, everything is new because we brought in new recipes, new menu items, new cocktails, new systems of service, new point of sales systems, and new culture. Ultimately, it's a new deal.


The restaurant is named after my friend, Enzo Corti who lives in the small town of Barberino-Tavarnelle in the heart of the Chianti region of Tuscany. Enzo is a fourth-generation wine and olive oil merchant who embodies everything I love about Italian food and culture. We have patterned our restaurant— and its approach— after his zest for living, exuberant charm, and infectious personality. 


The food at Enzo is part American-Italian and part authentic Italian. I decided to pare down the inaugural menu due to all the restaurant-opening reasons I stated above. We’ll start off with limited offerings and work our way into a more extensive menu. The main items we will be adding in the coming weeks will be more authentic Italian dishes. Many of those dishes are ones I learned during my travels to Italy. Some came from my son who worked as a chef over there, and others I learned from restaurateurs across the country, but mostly in Tuscany.


I am tired. At 60, I don’t quite have the stamina I did when I was in my 20s. But that’s not going to stop me. I do, however, believe I work smarter these days. I don’t know how many more restaurant openings I have in me, but we have a few more concepts in the works and even more on the drawing board. We want to keep creating opportunities for our team members to advance and move up.


In the end, I consider myself fortunate to have found a career that is also my hobby. It’s not work to me, it’s just what I love to do. I am weary, but more importantly, I am grateful, and I am blessed.



Porcini Mushroom Soup

3 quarts           Mushroom stock, heated 
8 TB                Unsalted butter, divided
¼ cup              All-purpose flour
¼ lb.                Dry porcini mushrooms (soaked and reserved from the mushroom stock recipe)
½ cup              Shallots, minced
2 TB                Brandy
2 TB                Kosher salt, divided
½ TB               Ground white pepper
1 TB                Fresh thyme, chopped
2 TB                Sherry vinegar

In a one gallon stock pot, melt 4 TB of the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk constantly to combine thoroughly and prevent scorching, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the heated mushroom stock 1 cup at a time, combining thoroughly each time until all the stock has been added. Continue to heat this on medium-low, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to 2 quarts.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 4 TB of butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and stir until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, 1 TB salt, white pepper and thyme and continue cooking for 6 minutes. Deglaze with the brandy and continue stirring until brandy has cooked out completely, about 3-4 minutes. 

Transfer this mixture to a food processor and pulse for 1-2 minutes. Return to the pot with the reduced stock and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Puree this mixture until smooth with a stick blender or in the food processor. Finish with remaining 1 TB salt and the sherry vinegar.

Yield: 1 gallon



Stuff About ZeroBear PolyBear said...

Another restaurant? Excellent!

Ox Tail Stew


4-6 Ox Tails
AP Flour – ½ cup
Black pepper - 2 Tablespoons
Oil – 2 Tablespons
Carrots – four large (peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces) and two small – peeled and left whole
Celery – 2 stalks – one halved and one diced
Potatoes – 6 or seven new red potatoes Peeled if you dislike potato skins and cut into 1 inch pieces
Beef broth – two cans
Onions – two medium sliced and ½ medium large dice
Red wine – half of a bottle of good red
Bay leaf – three whole
Rosemary – two six inch fresh pieces – leaves removed from stem
Garlic – four cloves, minced
Salt – if needed add toward end of cooking - after tasting for seasoning


Add two tablespoons of oil to a Dutch Oven and heat to medium high. Season the Ox Tails with black pepper and lightly flour each.

Brown the Ox Tails at medium high heat, taking time to make certain all sides are browned. Remove the lightly browned meat and set aside. Slice two medium onions and sauté in the pan. When the onion has caramelized add four cloves of minced garlic. When the garlic begins to turn translucent return the meat to the pan.

Open the wine and add about half the bottle to the pan to deglaze. Add the fresh rosemary, three bay leaves and two cans of beef broth. When the Ox tails are tender, taste the broth for seasoning and add salt if needed. Most of the time, the beef broth will provide enough salt so that none will be needed.

Add the two whole carrots, the stalk of celery, a teaspoon of black pepper and cook on low for about five hours. This time is needed to tenderize the meat. Check the meat twice during the cook and add a cup of water if needed. When the meat is tender enough to easily pull from the bones, remove it from the broth, along with the carrot and celery. Discard the carrot and celery and after deboning, return the meat to the broth. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.

Add the raw carrots, potatoes, diced celery and diced onion to the broth and cook covered for 30-45 minutes until the vegetables are fork tender.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your continued efforts Mr St John, some of us appreciate your contributions thru the Years.. I'm sorry for the naysayers who only want to complain-

Anonymous said...

How to make mushroom stock?

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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