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Robert St. John

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

Four Diamonds

February 16, 2009

Four Diamonds

I am currently in my 10th year of writing this weekly column.

For the last decade I have written approximately 750 words every week, 52 weeks a year, without ever missing a column.

Over the course of those 520 columns, 352 recipes, and roughly 390,000 words, I have written about strange foodstuffs, quirky food news, my kids and their relationship to food, my childhood and how the foods of my youth molded my career, my friends, my home state, my South, and have I have kept an extensive dining diary of the hundreds of restaurants I have visited across the country.

What I haven’t done is write a lot about my restaurants. Actually, I have gone to great lengths NOT to write about my restaurants, even when there are notable and noteworthy events in my own backyard. Occasionally I will write about a humorous event that happened in the early days or make an obscure reference to a dish we serve in comparison to a dish in a restaurant that I am visiting, but I have done my best to focus more on other restaurants whether they are in my town or not. Frankly, I have always worried that someone might think that I was using these column inches as a bully pulpit to promote my businesses.

Well, pardon me while I step up into the pulpit, and allow me— just this once— to crow about one of my restaurants.

Our flagship restaurant, The Purple Parrot Café, located in my hometown of Hattiesburg, was just awarded a Four-Diamond rating from the AAA Travel Guide. It is a very big day around here.

Out of the nation’s 945,000 restaurants, only 768 received four diamonds. There are only two independent restaurants in Mississippi that have reached that level: KC’s in Cleveland, and The Purple Parrot Café. New Orleans— one of America’s top-three restaurant cities— only has six four-diamond restaurants. Memphis has one.

We held an announcement/plaque unveiling party for our staff and management last night. I told them how proud I was of them and of the job they had done, but most importantly, I gave credit where credit was due— with them. They earned it. No question. I told them that out of all of the people gathered in the room, I had done the least to help us reach four diamonds, though the unfortunate reality of the situation is that I receive the most credit. I am the one who is the most visible.

I assured my staff last night that whenever I am giving a speech or signing books, or doing whatever it is that I do outside of the restaurant, I always give credit where credit is due— with them. A restaurant can’t win a four-diamond rating because a guy sells a lot of books. It takes hard work, dedication, and commitment. Traveling and giving speeches has nothing to do with it.

So I will use this space to, once again, give credit where credit is due— with the managers, chefs, sommeliers, cooks, servers, busboys, bartenders, hosts, and all of the support staff. Well done, ladies and gentlemen.

Our current staff and management team is the best in our 21-year history. But there were many servers, cooks, chefs, and managers through the years that helped us get to this point. Thank you, too. This is beginning to read like an award ceremony acceptance speech, I know, but allow me one last acknowledgement.

Most of all, I want to thank the customers who have supported us through the years. We have been fortunate to have a small group of dedicated regulars who have stood by us for over two decades. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The AAA Travel award winners can be found on their website, as well as the criteria used for achieving the Four-Diamond rating.

Purple Parrot Café Lobster Risotto

3 Lobsters, 1 1/2 pounds, cooked and cleaned
(reserve lobster meat for risotto and use shells and bodies for stock)
3 Tbl Clarified Butter
1/2 lb. Aborio rice
1/2 cup Shallots, chopped fine
1 qt Lobster stock, hot
1 Bay leaf
1 bunch Asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
3/4 cup Whipping cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 teaspoons Salt
1 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 cup Fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbl Fresh thyme, chopped

In a large skillet, heat butter over low medium heat. Add shallots and cook until they become soft. Add rice and stir continually until rice gets hot. Do not brown. Reduce heat to low and add one cup of stock. Turn heat down so that the stock is just barely simmering. Continue to stir constantly. As the stock is absorbed, add more stock in small amounts. Continue this process until the grains have become slightly tender.
Just before adding last ladle of stock, add asparagus pieces and lobster meat. Add remaining stock. Add cream, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and herbs and cook until thickened, about 4–5 minutes. Serve immediately

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