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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Food Fight!

November 5, 2007

Food Fight!

In the cafeteria scene of the 1978 movie Animal House, John Belushi pops up from behind a table and yells, “Food fight!” Chaos ensues. That was my first exposure to the phenomenon of thrown food.
There is a cafe near an outlet mall in Alabama where the employees of the restaurant throw yeast rolls at the customers. They don’t do this in a fit of anger, or in an inspired moment of college hi-jinks, but they throw hot bread at paying customers on purpose.
A town in Spain hosts a food fight every year in which hundreds of citizens throw tomatoes at each other. They throw tomatoes at an annual festival in Columbia, South America, too. Italy is home to a festival where people throw oranges at one another.

My father-in-law— a man with the maturity level of your average eighth grader— once threw a roll at me in a backwoods catfish house. He missed and hit a large pulpwooder at a neighboring table. We both escaped to tell the tale, but barely.

My wife cooked a clean-the-cooler dinner last night. A clean-the-cooler dinner is a meal where one gets all of the old, passed-over, and mish-mashed food items out of the refrigerator and freezer, and cooks them in one meal. It should be done approximately four times each year. Unfortunately, it only happens once a decade in my house.

My wife is a packrat when it comes to food and spices. Shelf lives and expiration dates mean nothing to her. I constantly throw away all manner of out-dated food in our cabinets.

Last night, there were two tins of leftover dinner rolls in the freezer. I am not exactly sure how old the rolls were, but they had probably been hiding behind the chopped spinach since Bill Clinton’s first term.
She served two tins of the Clinton-era rolls for dinner. “These rolls taste funny,” my son said.

“What’s up with the rolls, Mom?” said my daughter.

I made a joke and my daughter acted like she was going to throw her roll at me. I, in turn, actually threw one at her. My son howled. My daughter threw a roll at him. He threw one back at her. My son ran into the kitchen and grabbed the entire cookie sheet of rolls.

A full-scale food fight ensued. It was The Three Stooges on steroids. The breakfast room looked like an out-of-control episode of Jerry Springer.

It was a blast. The look on my kid’s faces was sheer joy. It was one that said— I can’t believe they are letting me do this. It soon changed to— I can’t believe daddy’s actually doing this with us.

My wife sat unaffected and watched as the six-year old, the 10-year old, and the 46-year old acting like a six-year old pelted each other with rolls. There was bread everywhere. There were crumbs everywhere. There was laughter everywhere.
Typically, I advocate the use of proper manners in this column. I was taught good manners at an early age. My mother and grandmother kept Emily Post’s Etiquette book next to the family bible. When I was growing up, nothing was done without consulting Mrs. Post. Though every once in a while it is liberating and exhilarating to throw decorum to the wind, especially while throwing rolls at your dining companion.
I am not endorsing the act of throwing food. As a restaurant owner, I am grateful that food never flies in any of our dining rooms. If you decide to throw caution to the wind and heave a roll at your dining companion, it should be done in the confines of your family home (or in one of my competitor’s restaurants).

I am, however, letting you know that some of the deepest belly laughs I’ve enjoyed recently came from a stale-roll war between my children and me. Maybe it’s healthy to act like a child every once in a while, no matter what Emily Post says.

Sunday Dinner Rolls

Butter, melted
1 package Active, dry yeast
2 Tbl Water, warm (105-115 degrees)
5 cups Flour, self-rising
1 /4 cup Sugar
1 /2 tsp Baking soda
1 cup Shortening
2 cups Buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grease baking pan with melted butter. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Set aside. In mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and baking soda. With pastry cutter or fork, cut in shortening until mixture resembles course meal. Combine buttermilk and yeast water.

Gradually add liquids to flour mixture, stirring with fork until flour is moistened. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and roll out 1 /2 inch thick. Cut with 2-inch biscuit cutter, dipping cutter into flour between cuts. Press cutter straight down without twisting for straight-sided, evenly shaped rolls. Place close together in prepared pan. Cover with damp cloth and let rise one hour (dough will not double in size).

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until brown. Brush tops with melted butter while hot. Yield: 30-40 rolls

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