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Robert St. John

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

The St.John International Culinary Field Trip of 2009

August 10, 2009

I just took a trip around the world with my family.

We ate in Italy first, then Japan on the first night, followed by Mexico, India, Austria, Viet Nam, China, Cuba, Morocco, France, with a few stops in different regions of America and at friends and family’s homes along the way. We were supposed to eat in Spain and Ethiopia, but last-minute changes to our schedule got in the way.

Actually, I took my kids on a culinary field trip— 10 days, nine states, 2,500 miles— with the intention of eating in as many exotic and international restaurants as possible.

The plan was developed for two reasons: 1.) We were on our way to Washington D.C., to see the Paul McCartney concert and were going to be in the family truckster for 10 days. I didn’t want to live off of fast-food drive-through crap. 2.) I wanted my kids to experience as much of the world’s cuisine as possible. Well, actually three reasons: 3.) I wanted to eat as much of the world’s cuisine as possible.

My 12-year old daughter has a sophisticated palate. She has always eaten whatever we have ordered. The eight-year old boy, on the other hand, usually decides he doesn’t like something even before he has tried it. The battle ensues, we make him try it anyway, and seven times out of 10 he says something like, “Hey, that’s good. I like that.”

For the purposes of this trip, we gave the boy one veto and one fake stomachache. He used the fake stomachache at an Indian restaurant in Asheville, NC, but never used the veto. Good stuff, that.

The daily journal entries from the trip can be found on my Facebook page for those who are friends, or my blog .

The Top 10 Highlights of the St.John International Culinary Field Trip were:

10.) Sweet Potato Pancakes with Cinnamon Cream Syrup in Nashville

9.) Milk Chocolate Mousse lollipop at my friend, Donald Barickman’s restaurant, Cypress.

8.) Tie: Indian food in Asheville at restaurant Mela— and—Watching my kids eat Mexican popsicles for the first time.

7.) Pork Belly appetizer with a port wine reduction at Muse in Charleston.

6.) Thai in Winston-Salem at Downtown Thai.

5.) Sunday brunch at Kuba Kuba in Richmond, VA

4.) Breakfast with my friend in Winston-Salem (a lady made my grandmother’s brownies for the road)

3.) Lunch in D.C. at a friend’s house overlooking the Potomac. Beautiful

2.) Watching my son sing “Hey Jude” at all-out, full volume, while he thought no one was watching during the Paul McCartney concert.

1.) A 12-course dinner at Cypress in Charleston with cousins I haven’t seen in a long time— the most memorable item being a Candied Pork Belly appetizer. Great food, close family, and engaging conversation, always make for an excellent evening.

My children might score the trip differently. I am sure that Mexican Popsicles in Nashville, burgers and fries at Top Chef winner, Spike Mendelsohn’s joint in D.C., or the Milk Chocolate Mousse Lollipop would reign supreme on their list. But I’m betting that the family memories we created in those 10 short days will follow them well into adulthood, and way past the food recollections.

In our Washington hotel, just above the breakfast buffet, there was a humorous photograph of a man in an old-world setting who was holding a dining table off of the ground using only his teeth. Basically, he had the whole table in is mouth. That image became a metaphor for the trip.

I am the man with the entire table in his mouth. It’s my lot in life— that, and being a dad. Good stuff, indeed.

Pilates, anyone?

Candied Pork Belly with succotash fricassee

Courtesy of Chef Craig Deihl, restaurant Cypress, Charleston, SC

Succotash Fricassee

6 cups water

3 tbsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup butter beans

1/2 cup crowder peas (black eyed peas are a good substitution)

1 cup hominy

4 tbsp. butter

¼ cup minced chives

2 tbsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. white pepper

1. In a heavy bottom saucepan combine butter beans, crowder peas, water and salt.

2. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 25 minutes, skim off any scum that rises to the surface. The beans should have a firm skin with a soft and creamy inside. Remove from heat and shock the beans.

3. Mix the beans and the hominy together.

4. With a sauté pan over medium high heat add the butter until melted, add the hominy mixture and cook until hot. Add the chives, salt and pepper. Incorporate evenly, taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Pork Belly

2 Lb. Pork Belly (skin On)

2 tbsp. kosher salt

1 tbsp. White pepper

1 tbsp. Fresh sage Chopped

1 tbsp. Fresh thyme chopped

2 tbsp. Garlic crushed

¼ cup honey

2 tbsp. Sherry or Apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp. Butter

2 tsp. Kosher salt

1 tsp. cracked black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

2. Using a sharp knife score the skin of the pork belly in a checkerboard design.

3. Rub the pork belly on both sides with salt, pepper, sage, thyme and garlic until evenly coated.

4. Place pork Belly in a roasting pan skin side. Place in the oven and back for 3 hours, turn oven to broil and cook for 10-12 minutes until the skin puffs up evenly.

5. Remove from oven and let rest for 30-40 minutes at room temperature.

6. Using a serrated knife Cut the meat into a ½ inch thick pieces and reserve.

7. Place the honey, vinegar, butter, salt and pepper in a large sauté pan. Place the pieces of crispy pork belly in the pan.

8. Place over high heat and cook until honey is syrupy and glazes the pork belly.

To plate

Place a small pile of succotash in the middle of a plate. Place the pork belly on top of the succotash. Using a ladle, nape the pork belly and place some of the sauce around the plate.

Yield 6-8 people

Sashimi Tuna and Kumomoto Oysters

with cilantro lime glaze and pineapple wasabi

Courtesy of Chef Craig Deihl, restaurant Cypress, Charleston, SC


1/2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1/2 tablespoon chopped mint

2 tablespoons squeezed limejuice

1/2 teaspoon lime zest

3 tablespoons mirin

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon Sambal chili sauce (Sriracha Chili paste can be substituted)

2 tablespoons fish sauce

  1. To make the glaze combine all the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and incorporate evenly. Place in the refrigerator to chill.
  2. The glaze can be made a day in advance.

Pineapple Wasabi:

3 tablespoons pineapple juice

2 tablespoons ground wasabi powder

  1. To make the pineapple wasabi combine pineapple juice and wasabi and incorporate evenly.

20 fresh Kumomoto oysters (in shell, stored on ice)

small bowl salt water

1-pound sashimi grade tuna

4 cups crushed ice

Cilantro leaves

  1. Scrub the oysters free of dirt and debris using a small brush.
  2. Using an oyster knife, remove top shell of oyster; detach the bottom of the oyster leaving it in the half shell. Check the oyster for any shell or grit. If there is excess grit, rinse with saltwater; otherwise leave the oyster in the shell.
  3. Cut the tuna in 20 equal size blocks, about the same size as the oysters. Place the tuna on top of the oysters.
  4. Place 1 teaspoon of the glaze on top of each oyster. Finish with a small dot of the wasabi.
  5. On 4 serving platter place the crushed ice and top with leaves of cilantro (this will be used to keep oysters cold and from sliding). Place all of the oysters on top of the cilantro and crushed ice and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 Servings

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