Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Robert St. John: It Takes a Village (Or at Least a Dedicated Team)

There are a lot of factors that go into the process of writing, testing, re-testing, editing, photographing, re-editing, styling, re-re-editing, publishing, marketing, and distributing a cookbook. It’s a process I’ve become quite familiar with over the past two decades. Though the word “factors” is slightly misleading. The correct terminology should be “people.”

My latest cookbook, “Mississippi Mornings” was released yesterday. It is my 13th book in the last 21 years. And whereas it has my name on the cover, it— like every book I’ve written before it— was a team effort. The true story of every cookbook, not just mine but anyone’s, is not on the cover, but on the acknowledgements page. It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Maybe so, but it definitely takes a great team to publish a cookbook.

From day one my business philosophy has been— take great care of the people who take care of you, and I have always believed in giving credit where credit is due. With Mississippi Mornings there’s a lot of credit to give.

My team is one that, at least when it comes to the culinary lineup, has been together since that first book 21 years ago. Chef Linda Roderick leads our recipe-testing team. The two of us have worked together—on and off—for more than 23 years. We've worked together for so long, and on so many projects, that we practice our own version of verbal kitchen shorthand and can communicate efficiently in partial sentences. She has an excellent palate, tons of wisdom, and loads of experience. Together we have more than three-quarters of a century in this business. Hers has been one of my favorite professional relationships, ever, and we are currently in the process of developing and testing the recipes for next year’s cookbook.

Chef Scott Strickland (we call him Scotty), served as Linda’s sous chef for recipe testing and photo shoots. He and I have also worked together for more than twenty years. He manned the stoves at the Purple Parrot for almost two decades and is now working his magic in the kitchen at The Midtowner. He, along with Linda, did the heavy lifting on the recipe testing. He has always been by my side, whether it’s for a new feature in the restaurant or an out-of-town cooking demonstration. His talents are numerous.

Kate Dearman shot all the photographs in the book and might be one of the hardest working women in the photography business. I have known her mother— my first-ever date to a concert when we were both six— all my life. Kate grew up in Hattiesburg and now works out of Nashville. She is a consummate professional and got some great food shots for the book. She also had the unenviable task of trying to secure a usable photograph of the author, which probably turned out to be a tougher task than making a plain bowl of grits look appealing.

Martha Foose was still living between the Mississippi Delta and— what she quickly labeled the “Pine Belta” in— Hattiesburg when we shot the book. She is also a cookbook veteran and served as the primary food stylist for the photo shoot. In the middle of the photo shoot, I asked her to write the foreword. She nailed both assignments and kept everyone in stitches the entire time.

Anthony Thaxton is possibly the most talented person I know. He is a man of many gifts who wears many hats. In addition to being my co-producer on numerous television shows and a couple of documentary projects, his is also my fellow co-founder— and the driving force— at our newly founded Institute of Southern Storytelling at Mississippi College. He handled the design and artistic direction for this project and did it well. This may be my best-looking book, ever.

Simeon Williford is my assistant and keeper. She handles the publishing business and the travel business in addition to my schedule and most of the random things that pop up over the course of my days. She keeps me between the bumpers and in the bonus.

To round out the team Laurel Rowell handles marketing, Maria Keyes covers accounting (and farm-fresh eggs), Chief Operating Officer, Jarred Patterson, holds down the forts. And while we’re speaking of the forts, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the 450 team members who are down in the daily trenches at New South Restaurant Group restaurants every day.

Jill St. John and Justin Jordan should receive special thanks for floral design, staging, and handling the props department. I never knew that turning our dining room into what looked like a temporary flea market could be so effective.

Four of the 13 books I have written were done so under national publishing contracts. One was a three-book deal with the national publisher 15 years ago. There were two books I wanted to do with that publisher when I signed the deal. One was a Christmas cookbook the other was a breakfast cookbook. They weren't interested in doing a Christmas cookbook but said they could do a holiday cookbook. I passed and made a mental note to publish a Christmas book under my own imprint in the future. I ended up doing a grilling book instead of the breakfast book and was very proud of it. It was one of my better efforts. But the breakfast book has always been on the to-do list. That day has come.

Having worked in the self-publishing world for most of my books I've learned a lot. For a long time, I thought a book project wasn't legit unless it came from a national publisher. And then I worked with two different national publishers and was surprised to learn that— at least when it comes to my work and my specific audience— I am more in touch with my base than the professionals on the Upper West Side. It’s around that time that I decided to use my own imprint for all future works.

I no longer have the desire to have my books in stores from coast to coast. Been there, done that. These days my interest is in those who follow my work in the Southeastern United States. I also only work with local independent bookstores and gift shops. That's one change I made a couple of books ago. My books were being sold in all the big box retailers, but the backbone of my support was in independent bookstores and gift shops. I am a huge proponent of people eating in local restaurants and not dining in national chains and it struck me one day why would I work against independent booksellers and small gift shops who are on the front lines of the book business. I need to practice what I preach and support those who have supported me and my work.

As I head out on a brief book-signing tour throughout Mississippi, I’ll be fueled by an overwhelming sense of gratitude and indebtedness for those independent retailers who sell my books, to those who take time out of their day to come to a book signing to purchase one of my books, the online followers who live out of state and order books, and especially those who have helped me produce these books for the past two decades.

As always, it’s the people. Thank you from the deepest recesses of my overworked heart.


Sweet Potato Pancakes

I ate my first sweet potato pancake during my only visit to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. My family, along with another couple and their young children rented a cabin in the mountains during spring break. I woke every morning and headed into town for breakfast. I would imagine Gatlinburg has more pancake houses per capita than any place on the planet. My problem is that I never found a good-tasting pancake until I happened across sweet potato pancakes at one of the pancake houses.

We serve a version of this recipe at The Midtowner. The Cinnamon Cream Syrup is a must.

Yield: 10-14 pancakes

Preheat oven to 200 degrees for holding pancakes

1 2/3 cups All Purpose Flour

1 TBSP Baking Powder

½ tsp Baking Soda

½ tsp Kosher Salt

½ tsp Nutmeg

1 ½ tsp Cinnamon

1 ½ cups Cooked and mashed sweet potato (approximately two medium sweet potatoes)

3 Large Eggs

¼ cup Sour Cream

1 ½ cups Milk

¼ cup Maple Syrup

¼ cup Unsalted Butter, melted

1 TBSP Pure Vanilla Extract

Melted butter or non-stick spray for cooking

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in a medium sized bowl. In a separate mixing bowl whisk together the sweet potato puree eggs, sour cream, milk, maple syrup, melted butter and vanilla extract. Whisk the sweet potato mixture into the flour mixture, do not overmix. A few lumps is fine.

Allow batter to sit 10-15 minutes before cooking pancakes.

To cook the pancakes, heat a non-stick griddle to 325-350 degrees (models vary, so test your griddle with a small bit of batter to assure you have the heat adjusted correctly). Brush griddle with melted butter or spray with non-stick spray. Form pancakes by using a one-third cup measuring cup. Cook until surface of pancakes has some bubbles and a few have burst, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook for an additional two minutes. If holding pancakes in oven before serving, place them on a wire rack in preheated oven.

Serve with Cinnamon Cream Syrup

Cinnamon Cream Syrup

This pairs perfectly with Sweet Potato Pancakes. It may be better than the pancakes themselves (and they’re great). But try this recipe on regular pancakes, waffles, and French toast.

Yield: approximately 2 cups

1-14 ounce can Sweetened Condensed Milk

¼ cup + 2 TBSP Maple Syrup

1 ½ tsp Cinnamon

1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract

Pinch Salt

Set up a small sauce pot to act as a double boiler. Combine all ingredients in a small stainless-steel bowl and place over double boiler on medium-high heat. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and serve.

The cooled syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for one week.

Recent Comments

Search Jackson Jambalaya

Subscribe to JJ's Youtube channel


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