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Robert St. John

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

Good Work If You Can Get It

June 23, 2010

Being a food writer is a pretty sweet gig if you can get it.

I fell backwards into food writing over a decade ago. My early stuff was bad, really bad; some might take the stance that the new writing is not all that great either. Nevertheless, it’s where my passion lies— or is it lays? Then again, maybe the writing hasn’t improved, after all.

Like any job, food writing has its positives and negatives. I get to travel a lot and write about dining out in all manner of restaurants. That is certainly a plus, especially since I usually travel with my family. I test recipes, which isn’t a whole lot of fun, but eating the results during each stage of the process is nice. I work alone during my favorite part of the day— the early morning hours— and that’s peaceful and serene and makes for a low-stress work environment.

I don’t really have a boss— check another one in the plus category. Syndication offers a significant degree of autonomy. I write about what interests me and am never censored too badly at the business end of the editor’s pen.

I also receive a lot of email from readers. That, along with meeting those people at book signings, is one of the greatest joys of my life. My column reader’s retention is amazing. I am often reminded of long-forgotten things that I have written or done. I get a kick out of that.

I also receive angry emails. Strangely enough, I love that correspondence even more. Just the fact that I have stirred up an emotion in someone that is so strong they took time out of their day to tell me about it, why I wear that criticism like a badge of honor.

Note to potential future columnists: Never anger the Girl Scouts.

One of the downsides of being near the bottom of the D-list in the food world is that you get invited to be the judge at food competitions and cook-offs.

Note to event organizers who, in the past, have asked me to judge their cooking competitions: I am not talking about your event. I am talking about one of those other food competitions I had to judge.

Being a food judge is a no-win situation. One would think that getting to taste all sorts of free food is a great perk. One would be wrong. Rarely, if ever, is there “great” food to be tasted. Most of it is bad. Really bad.

I once judged a cook-off where I was the sole judge. I was seated on a stage in an auditorium in front of a standing-room only crowd, of which the first three rows were contestants who watched me eat every bite. Talk about pressure? Try eating poorly prepared food in front of the preparer who prepared it so poorly. I can’t act that well.

I once judged a home-cooking competition where, in the casserole category, there were four entrants. I was to select a first, second, and third-place winner, which obviously meant someone was going to be left out. As with most cooking competitions, one entry stood out above all of the others. The second and third place casseroles were mediocre and easy to place. The fourth casserole was just plain bad. Luckily I was judging in a sequestered area, and I spit it back out.

After the awards ceremony, a lady— the fourth place casserole contestant— came up to me and asked, “Why didn’t you like my casserole?” Stumbling and stammering, I lied and said that it had been a very tough choice choosing between all of the entries.

When she pressed further, I got frustrated and said, “Yours just wasn’t quite as good as the others. I’m sorry.”

“Actually,” she said, “I should be the one who is sorry. The recipe came from one of your cookbooks.”

And that, my friends, is why I love being a food writer.

Pineapple Sorbet with Minted Cookies

1/2 cup water

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup karo syrup

1 Tbl fresh lemon juice

1 large ripe pineapple, rind and core removed and cubed, approx. 5 cups

Make a simple syrup by placing the water and sugar in a small sauce pot and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool the syrup completely.

Place the simple syrup, karo syrup, lemon juice and pineapple in a blender. On high speed, puree the mixer until it is smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine strainer and refrigerate for one hour.

Following the manufacturer’s directions of an electric ice cream machine, freeze the liquid. Remove from the ice cream maker and store covered in the freezer for 2 hours before serving. The sorbet may be made and held in the freezer for one week.

Yield: 1 quart

Minted Cookie

1/2 cup Butter

1 /4cup Sugar

1 medium Egg

1/2tsp mint extract

1 tsp Vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups Flour

1/4 tsp. Baking powder

10 peppermints, crushed*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar; beat in egg and extracts. Sift flour and baking powder together, stir into mixture. Refrigerate about 1 hour, or until dough is firm enough to roll. On a floured surface, roll to 1 /8-inch thickness and cut with cookie cutters. Sprinkle the tops with the crushed peppermint pieces. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Yield: 12-16 cookies

To serve, scoop the sorbet into serving dishes and place 1-2 cookies along side of the scooped sorbet.

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