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Robert St. John

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

Most Frequently Asked Questions

June 6, 2011

I field questions on a daily basis, some through public appearances and book signings, others through email, but most often during face-to-face encounters in the restaurants. This column will attempt to answer the questions that I am most often asked.

Question: Do you really eat all of that food that you write about?
Answer: Yes.

Q: How do you eat so much and not get fat?
A: You obviously have never met me. I am fat; it’s just hard to tell from the headshot in the newspaper (which is six years old, by the way).

Q: What is your favorite ingredient?
A: Jumbo lump crabmeat.

Q: What is your favorite recipe?
A: There are too many, so I’ll go with the most recent recipe. Last week I created a Summer Vegetable Minestrone for the new Italian restaurant. It’s really good. Once we were finished, and after we had tasted the final version, I was high-fiving and fist-bumping Yuri the prep cook who worked with me. That’s fun.

Q: Where did you get the name The Purple Parrot Café?
A: Short answer— lack of a better name. In 1987, we were down to the wire and needed a name for the soon-to-be-opened restaurant. The temporary name was Purple Parrot, which had been a joke after a Jimmy Buffett concert. Time came to fill out legal documents and paperwork, and we just went with the temporary name.

I wish there was a better story behind it. There’s really nothing tropical or bird-like in the place. It’s just a name, and we’ve been around too long to change it now.

Q: What is the key to successful cooking and/or writing?
A: Passion. I believe that success follows passion in everything. I am passionate about food and I am passionate about writing.

Q: When did you begin your writing career?
A: Fairly late in life, I was almost 40-years old when I started writing this column. It all happened so fast. I developed a passion for writing sitting at my desk in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and three years later I was sitting at a table on the Upper West Side of Manhattan signing a three-book deal with Hyperion. Eight books later, I’m still doing it.

I told my wife that I spent my first 40 years living, and I’m going to spend the next 40 writing about it. I’ve been blessed with the curse of having a great memory.

Q: What inspires you to write?
A: Besides my Monday morning deadline? Seriously, my maternal grandfather was one of the main male influences in my life. He was a master storyteller. He wasn’t a writer, he worked for the phone company, but he was a Southern gentleman and a great role model. I admired him so much. I’ll never even come close to becoming the storyteller that he was.

Q: What is your favorite subject matter?
A: My children. There’s a ton of material there. It’s never-ending. I’ve got a lot of job titles: Chef, author, restaurateur, columnist, but the best job I’ve ever had is being a dad.

Q: Do you ever run out of things to write about?
A: It’s only happened once. But I ended up writing a column answering all of the questions people have asked me over the years and everything worked out perfectly.

Crab Bread with Tomato Basil Concasse

1 Tbl butter
2 Tbl green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup diced red peppers
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl flour

1/3 cup hot chicken stock
2 TBSP sherry
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbl hot sauce

1/2 pound cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Swiss cheese, grated
1/2 pound Fresh lump crab meat
2 Tbl parsley, chopped

1 French Baguette, 16-20 inches in length

Preheat oven to 375.

Melt the first tablespoon of butter in a small sauté pan over a medium heat. Add in the green onions, peppers, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in a small sauté pan over a low heat. Stir in the flour to form a roux. Cook the roux for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, being careful not to burn the roux.
Whisk the hot stock, sherry and lemon juice into the roux mixture. Cook for 3-4 more minutes and remove from heat.

Place the softened cream cheese into an electric mixing bowl, and using the paddle attachment, beat it for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl using a rubber spatula, and then add the thickened stock mixture, peppers and onions and Swiss cheese. Blend until smooth.

Next gently fold in the crab and parsley using a rubber spatula.

Cut the baguette in half lengthwise and spread the crab mixture evenly over the bread.

Place the two halves on a foil lined baking sheet and bake for twenty minutes.
Remove the bread from the oven and allow cool for 3-4 minutes. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut 2” wide slices. Arrange slices on a serving dish and top each piece with a teaspoon of the tomato concasse mixture.

Tomato Basil Concasse

1 1/2 cups Fresh Ripe Tomatoes, seeds removed, very small dice
1/2 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 TBSP freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients.

Yield: 8 servings

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