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Robert St. John

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

Notes From the Road

November 11, 2013


The book-signing tour for the new book “An Italian Palate” is in fourth gear and we won’t be downshifting anytime soon.

Between this writing and mid December Wyatt Waters and I are traveling to 30 bookstores, libraries, museums and shops to give gallery talks and sign the new book. A couple of fingers on our right hands are numb, but it’s a good feeling because the book has taken off.

Our first collaboration “A Southern Palate” was a crazy, fluke, sales monster that hit bookstores with a 10,000-copy first run that sold out in three weeks. Those were a crazy 21 days as Waters and I crisscrossed the state attending book-signing events that were so crowded that the bookstores had already run out of books when we arrived. We brought more cases with us and sold those before we left.

That was a once-in-a-lifetime event, or so we thought.

One week into the release of this new book I have had to order a second printing of “An Italian Palate.” The 10,000-book run of the first edition is about to sell out and we have had to limit case-amount orders to retailers. That might sound like good news, but it’s not.

Luckily the second edition of “An Italian Palate” will arrive in mid December and we will be able to fill all of the orders before Christmas.

Before the tour started, I told myself that I was going to enjoy the process this time. I have looked forward to meeting people along the way and discussing their trips to Italy and the Italian foods that they enjoy cooking. So far it’s been a blast.

I usually recommend a few dishes from each book as I’m visiting with people. My go-to dish in “An Italian Palate” is Eggplant Parmesan. It’s perfect— not fried, easy to make, very light and healthful, and most of all it tastes great. At a book signing last week a woman who purchased the book the previous day had gone home that night, made the Eggplant Parmesan recipe, and came back the next day and excitedly told us how great it was and how everyone in her family had loved it. As she was describing her meal, the people in line began picking up even more books.

My other go to recipes are the soups— Minestrone, White Bean Stufato, and Roasted Tomato Soup— and a pasta recipe I call Penne Norcia that was taught to me by my friend, David Trigiani, and is my go-to dish when I have people over for dinner at my house.

Out of the thousands of people I have visited with so far, I’m delighted to discover how many of them have travelled Italy and gone to many of the same places that are in the book. I have also solicited recommendations for my future trips from people who have been to cities and towns I have yet to discover. Many are planning upcoming trips to Italy and I have offered advice to hundreds of them for small, out-of-the-way locals-only trattorias, osterias, and villas.

Even more satisfying is hearing from you, the column reader, who followed along with us on that six-month adventure in 2011. Two years ago, around this time, we were on the Amalfi Coast and Sicily. Wyatt was in a zone and painting the most beautiful work of his career and I was eating my way through the tip of the boot learning everything I could about the region, their foodways, and their culture.

So many people have talked about how they followed us via newsprint as we forged ahead on that journey. It’s something I hadn’t really thought of, maybe because I was in the middle of a hectic travel schedule halfway across the planet and not seeing daily newspapers, but people seem to have bought in to the trip on a personal level and— as I learned from visiting with them— even felt like they had a personal stake in the outcome. That was surprising, humbling, and heartwarming all at once.

It is only now, with the benefit of two years of space and a book to stand as a reminder and record of the journey that I look back and take inventory of how special that time was— to be traveling with my wife, two children and my best friends through a magical country.

I know that two years from know I will look back on this time— these days of book tours, signing, and lectures— with a fondness that I will carry in my memory banks forever. For that I am truly grateful. Thank you.


Roasted Tomato Soup

Perfect on a cold day with a soft-cheese Panini.

10 lbs. Roma tomatoes
¼ c. Bacon fat
3 c. Onion, diced
¼ c. Minced garlic
1 TB Dried basil
1 TB Dried oregano

1 TB Kosher salt
2 tsp Fresh ground black pepper
1 ea 6 oz. can tomato paste
4 c. Chicken stock
1 ea. Bay leaf
1 c. Heavy cream
1 TB Sherry vinegar

Preheat oven to 400.

Lightly coat the tomatoes with vegetable oil and place on a baking sheet in the oven for 30-45 minutes, turning them every 10 minutes. Remove from oven when the skin begins to crack and the tomatoes are soft.  Allow to cool just enough to handle and remove and discard the skins.

In a stockpot, sauté onions in the bacon fat for 8-10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.  Add garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper and continue stirring for another 4-5 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir constantly for 5-6 minutes until caramelized, being careful not to burn.

Add Chicken stock, roasted tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf and add cream and sherry vinegar and simmer for 10 more minutes.

Puree until smooth using an immersion blender or in small batches in a countertop blender.

Yield: 1 gallon


Remaining Book Signing Schedule

November 6-9     Mistletoe Marketplace      7am-9pm          Jackson, MS

November 11        Main Street Books             5pm                  Hattiesburg, MS

November 12        Lemuria Books                1:00pm              Jackson, MS

November 13        Reed’s Books                   Noon-2pm        Tupelo, MS

November 14       Indianola Country Club 1:30pm-3pm    Indianola, MS

November 14       Turnrow Books               5pm-7pm          Greenwood, MS

November 15       Square Books                5pm                    Oxford, MS

November 17      Christmas at Book Mart  11pm-12pm     Starkville, MS

November 17     Forest Community Arts    2pm- 4pm       Forest, MS

November 19      Clinton Library       6:30pm                    Clinton, MS

November 20      Turning Pages Books   Noon-2pm         Natchez, MS

November 21     Lauren Rogers Museum    10am-12pm   Laurel, MS

November 22     Caters Market             11am-1pm            Meridian, MS

November 24   Village Peddler            1pm-5pm                Fairhope, AL

November 25   Pass Christian Books        6pm-7:30pm     Pass Christian, MS

November 30   Wyatt Waters Gallery     3pm-4pm               Clinton, MS

December 1      Loreli Books                1:00pm                  Vicksburg, MS

December 2     Main Street Books      4pm                       Hattiesburg, MS

December 5     Martin Miazza          11:30am                Gulfport, MS

December 7     An Italian Palate Dual Demo    4pm        Booneville, MS

December 8    Winston County Library            2pm                Louisville, MS

December 11    Cotton Row Books                   1:00 pm        Cleveland, MS

December 11    A Trip to Italy-MMA                7pm              Jackson, MS

December 12   Private Event                            6pm             Biloxi

December 15       Purple Parrot Cafe             3pm                Hattiesburg, MS

December 14     Persnickety                11am                         Madison, MS

January 9         A Trip to Italy- MMA        evening            Jackson, MS

January 23      Kings Daughter Foundation       7pm       Brookhaven, MS

March 28         Oxford Conference For the Book    1:30pm    Oxford, MS


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