It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it
By By Robert St. John / food columnist
June 18, 2003
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. If you have any questions or comments, he can be reached at email@example.com or at (601) 264-0672.
I love my job.
I am the executive chef at the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. Executive chef is a fancy culinary term for: "Doesn't do any of the work but gets to eat the end result and receives way too much of the credit."
In theory, the executive chef is in charge of "the big picture." He or she develops the theme of the menu, the style of the cuisine, dictates the direction of the restaurant's concept and approves (taste tests) all of the menu offerings. The latter is where the fun comes in. I spent the first four years of my restaurant career toiling in the kitchen 90 hours each week. In the fifth year I stepped away from line service. Our cooks had become much faster and more efficient in the production end of the service line. I was moth-balled to the concept/development end of the restaurant business. Please don't throw me in the briar patch.
Development consists of conceptualizing and taste-testing recipes. It's fun stuff and I wouldn't trade places with anyone. One gets to be creative and fill their belly at the same time.
My grandfather always said: "Robert, it doesn't matter what you do to make a living as long as you love what you are doing. If you love what you are doing, then work becomes a hobby."
I love to eat. I am good at it. Eating might be the one thing I would claim to be better at than anyone I know. I wound up following my grandfather's advice. I love to eat and I love my work. Does that make eating my hobby? Maybe so, either way it's a lot more fattening than collecting baseball cards or playing with model trains.
I have been doing a lot of work (read: eating) lately. I am in the process of completing my second cookbook: "Deep South Staples or How to Survive in a Southern Kitchen without a Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup." I know it's a long title, but the recipes are great. Writing a cookbook involves a lot of eating.
Earlier this morning I was standing in the Purple Parrot Caf prep kitchen (the briar patch), doing what I do best eating. Chef Linda Nance had a dozen recipes spread out on the prep table. She and I have been developing the recipes for the book. At the same time, Chef Steve Smith and I were developing a new stuffed flounder dish for the Crescent City Grill.
I was surrounded by enough food to feed an army: green bean casserole, corn pudding, butter beans, garlicky new potatoes, pink-eye purple-hull peas, creamed corn, squash casserole, lasagna with spinach, vegetable lasagna and the stuffed flounder.
It all tasted so good. I looked up at the chefs and spontaneously blurted out, "I love my job." At the time they loved their job too. They were taste-testing with me.
It's a tough job, but if you are going to run a restaurant or write a cookbook someone has got to do it.
I am a world-class eater. My son is, too. He's following in his daddy's footsteps. At 2 years old, he has shown a great proclivity for becoming an executive chef. He eats everything on his plate and anything in his path. He has recently developed a strong appetite for things left on the floor. Maybe he'll grow up and write a cookbook: "How to Prepare a Six-Course Meal Using Items Picked up off of the Family Room Carpet."
Wyatt Waters and I are discussing a follow-up coffee-table cookbook to "A Southern Palate." I was going to include more Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill recipes.
At the rate I am going with this new cookbook, I am going to have to fill the next book with low-fat, low-carb, no-sugar, no-fun recipes. I have gained 25 pounds writing this book, but I'm having fun. It's my job.
Deep South Creamed Corn
6 ears fresh silver queen corn, shucked
1⁄4 cup butter
1⁄3 cup quick corn stock
1⁄4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoon cornstarch
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
To make quick corn stock, take two shucked corn cobs and break them in half. Place the cobs in a small pot with 2 cups of cold water. Bring water to a boil and lower heat to medium. Cook for 30 minutes. Strain liquid and set1⁄3 cup of corn stock aside for recipe.
If you own a corn scraper set for "creamed corn" and scrape three ears into a bowl. Next, shuck the remaining three ears with a knife keeping whole kernels intact. Then scrape the cob to release all of the milk (If you do not own a corn scraper shuck all eight ears with a knife).
Combine corn kernels (and their milk), butter and quick corn stock in a heavy saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for approximately 10-12 minutes. Combine heavy cream and cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk thoroughly making sure cornstarch is dissolved. Add cream mixture to corn and stir well. Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes stirring often. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serves 6.