Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Robert St. John: A Golden Opportunity

 To be successful in the restaurant business it takes total commitment and sacrifice. It's brutal way to earn a living. But for those of us who are bit by the bug, and are totally obsessed, we couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

 Bankers hate restaurants. The reason bankers hate restaurants is because of the high mortality rate in the industry. There aren’t many businesses one can get into so easily and fail so miserably. 

Here's the scenario. Joe Cooks a good steak in his backyard. Joe's friends tell him, “Joe, that's a great steak. You should open a restaurant.” He agrees. Joe mortgages the house and opens Joe's Steakhouse. Joe learns quickly that being able to grill a good steak in his backyard is about 5% of what he needs to know to run a successful restaurant. He wonders why it looks nothing like it did on the Food Network. He had visions of sitting at table five every night basking in the adoration of his grateful guests. Instead, he ended up washing dishes at 1:00 AM because the dishwasher called in with his fifth flat tire or sixth dead grandmother in the past two weeks. Around the time he's taking the greasy mats out to wash down on the back dock for the ninth time that month, he's decided that the bank can just keep his money.


It's brutal, granted. But for those of us who love it, who are obsessed with it, who can't see themselves doing anything else, it’s a blast. I got bit by the restaurant bug. At 19-years-old after switching from being a radio station disc jockey to managing a delicatessen. It seems like the bite occurred on the first shift of the first day. But to be accurate, it was probably sometime during the first week that it struck me that this is what I want to do going forward. Actually, what I was “supposed” to do. 


I loved the restaurant business so much I got a second job in another restaurant, and after managing the delicatessen during the day, I waited tables at night. I immediately set a new course for my life. My goal was to open a restaurant. I was so set in that goal that I believe nothing could have stopped me. No matter how long it took— no matter what it took— I was going to open a restaurant. I haven't looked back since. 


I realize I am an odd bird. Everybody who is in this business is not totally obsessed like me. A very select few are more obsessed. A few weeks ago, I met one.


Zacchaeus Golden is one of the great success stories in the restaurant business. He was born in the Mississippi Delta and grew up with a single mom. At 16, he started working in fast food restaurants. At 17, he moved to Mobile, Alabama. And eventually enrolled in a culinary program in junior college. He was bit. He had that tunnel vision that some of us get when all we can think about is that we want to open a restaurant, and we can't think of anything else. He set out to learn all he could about the business. After several stretches in Mobile-area kitchens he began journeyman's jaunt across the country, working his way into some of the finest kitchens in the world.


After two stints in New Orleans, working for some of that city’s finest chefs, he hopped on a Greyhound bus with $300 in his pocket and his eye on the two-star Michelin-rated avant-garde home of minimalist food, Coi, in San Francisco. He was hired. In less than seven years he had gone from Sonic to the top of the food chain in one of America’s great food cities. This is where I get humbled in the commitment category. Granted, I was obsessed with restaurants. In my spare time, I did nothing but read restaurant trade magazines. I took 18 and 21 hours in college and while working a 40-hours-a-week schedule. I stayed up until three in the morning designing menus and restaurants. I lived in a one room above a garage until I was 30 years old. That pales in comparison to Chef Zach Golden. His desire to work at a Michelin-starred restaurant was so strong, he lived homeless in San Francisco for six months just for the opportunity to work at Coi. He slept on the streets during the day and worked as many shifts as they would give him in the restaurant. 


That’s commitment.


Six months in he was caught sleeping on the floor in the dry storage on an exceptionally cold night and was let go. That didn't stop Golden in his quest to learn from the best. He was steadfast in his desire to absorb everything he could from the world's greatest chefs. In a matter of days, he had worked himself into the kitchen at The French Laundry an hour up the road.


The French Laundry is widely considered one of the best restaurants in the country. To me, there's no competition. It is the best. And, in my opinion, Thomas Keller is— by far— the absolute best chef in America, and probably one of the top three in the world. Zach Golden, late of Sonic Drive-In in Belzoni, Mississippi spent nine months cooking in Keller’s kitchen. 


It’s one of the greatest success stories I’ve ever known in this business— from tater tots and chili dogs in the Delta to foie gras, Kobe beef, and three Michelin stars in Napa. But he was just getting started. He continued his quest on the East Coast, at the Michelin three-starred Inn at Little Washington. He stayed there, “until it got cold,” and then headed back home to Mississippi


Last year, in the middle of the post-Covid decimation of the dining industry— at the worst time to open a restaurant in the history of the restaurant business— and in a neighborhood that hadn’t seen a successful restaurant in decades, Golden opened Southern Soigne. He didn’t have to worry whether bankers like the restaurant business, or not. He didn’t need a bank. He opened it with money he saved from working in other restaurants. 


He was 28. 


That is commitment. 


That is dedication. 


That is the most ultimate example of restaurant tunnel vision I have ever witnessed.


The story doesn’t end there. It’s just beginning


Golden gathered all the knowledge he gained under some of the top chefs in the nation and brought it home. In a house that was built in the final year of the Civil War, he works the restaurant virtually alone. His mother is there, and she helps serve and host. But the entire operation is run by two people. Southern Soigne is a 12-seat, reservations-only, tasting menu experience like no other in Mississippi (or surrounding states for that matter).


I've been in this business for 40 years. I thought I had seen it all. I have never met a person as dedicated to his craft, and as single minded in his focus, as Chef Zacchaeus Golden. 


Chef Zach Golden is everything I love about this business and is the perfect example of how razor-focus on achieving a goal and living out a dream can be done, against all odds, against all accepted norms, when one is willing to do what it takes— whatever it takes— to achieve his or her goal. Those are the stories we need to be passing on, and Golden’s journey is just beginning.


Foie Gras with Toasted Brioche, Fig Relish and reduced Port Wine Glaze


1 lb. Foie Gras cut into 2 ounce slices

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

8 Slice Fresh Brioche, crusts removed and cut in half on a diagonal

1 recipe Fig Relish

1 Recipe Port Wine Glaze


Preheat oven to 450


Season the foie gras with the salt and black pepper.

Arrange the brioche on a baking sheet.

Heat a large skillet over high heat and arrange the foie gras in the heated skillet so they are not touching. Cook for 45 seconds. Turn each pieces over and cook for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Place the brioche in the oven to toast.

To serve, place one piece of the brioche toast on each serving plate, top with one piece of the cooked foie gras. Top each piece of foie gras with 2 tsp of the fig relish. Rest another piece of toast atop of the foie gras. Drizzle the plate with the port wine glaze and serve immediately. 


Yield: 8 servings.

Fig Relish


1 Tbl              butter

2 Tbl              minced shallots

1 1/2 cups      whole fig preserves, small dice

2 Tbl              brown sugar

2 Tbl             sherry vinegar

2 Tbl              minced celery

2 Tbl              small diced red peppers

1/2 tsp fresh thyme leave, chopped

salt and pepper to taste


Melt the butter over low heat in a small sauce pot. Cook the shallots for 3 minutes. Add in the diced figs and brown sugar, and cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking and burning. Add in the sherry vinegar, celery and red bell peppers and lower the heat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the thyme, salt and black pepper and remove from heat. The flavor of the relish is best if made a day or two in advance. When ready to use, warm it slowly in a small sauté pan over a low heat.


Yield: 1 1/2 cups


Port Wine Glaze


1 cup chicken stock

1 Tbl brown sugar

1 cup port wine

2 tsp balsamic vinegar


Place all ingredients in a small sauce pot. Simmer and reduce until mixture forms a thick syrup.

Yield: One quarter cup

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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