Skip to content

Robert St. John

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


November 10, 2014

The oatmeal cookie is my cookie of choice. If it has raisins in it, that’s a bonus. I was eating an oatmeal-raisin cookie the other day and noticed a strange tang in the flavor profile. I had tasted oatmeal cookies like that occasionally, through the years, but it had been a while— maybe it was in the fellowship hall of my church when I was a kid. Though I had never been able to put my finger on the foreign flavor.

Then it dawned on me. Maybe it took 33 years in the restaurant business to hone my taste buds and refine my palate; maybe I was just having an extra-special extra-sensory day. I nailed the foreign flavor that has been invasively ruining my oatmeal cookie fetish for the last 50 years. It was coconut.

What type of cruel, sick, and mean-spirited individual puts coconut in an oatmeal cookie? There ought to be some type of federal regulation against that. It’s not like the oatmeal cookie isn’t already the redheaded step-cookie to the chocolate chip, but to rub it in by adding something as strange as coconut? Well that’s just plain mean.

Is the oatmeal cookie such a second-fiddle snack that we can just do whatever we want to it? “Hey, lets throw some chopped mango in the mix. No one will care, its just oatmeal. It’s not like we’re dealing with chocolate chip here.”

I am not a fan of the coconut, never have been, never will be. I were ever stranded on an island and given the choice to live only off of coconut or crawling insects, I’m chomping on bugs. I would lose on that show Survivor within the first day. I can’t fish with a spear and I won’t eat a coconut.

No one is on the coconut fence. One either loves or hates coconut. The coconut is not a fruit that elicits ambivalence. And how did coconut become a fruit? Who made that call? It’s hard and hairy and grows high up in trees. Shouldn’t it be a nut? Sure a kiwi is hairy, but they are small, soft, and cute. There is nothing cute about a coconut.

My grandmother loved coconut. Ambrosia was one of her go-to desserts. I loved that lady dearly, but I hate, hate, hate ambrosia. For those lucky enough to have never been exposed to this freakish dessert monstrosity, it contains oranges, cherries, pineapple, and pecans— so far, so good (though I could do without those overly sweet red cherries in a jar). But then add sour cream and the dreaded flaky white sweet sawdust we call coconut and it becomes a dessert from the deep, dark, bowels of Hades that I don’t want anywhere near my dinner table.

There are a lot of recipes that contain coconut— cream pie, macaroons, as a crust for shrimp, and as a curry condiment— and I hate them all. I love curry, but I never eat it with coconut.

Coconut is even the main topic in one of the most annoying songs this side of Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck.” Harry Nilsson was a great singer/songwriter, and a friend of John Lennon (which pulls some weight in my book), but as soon as he had a hit singing about putting lime into coconuts, his career went into the tank. Coconut- 1, Nilsson- 0.

My disdain for coconut might have started in my childhood while eating chocolate candies in a Whitman Sampler. There always seemed to be an inordinate amount of candies with white creamy coconut in the middle. Those are the worst. You get your taste buds ready for a chewy caramel center— raspberry jelly at the worst— and you bite into coconut.

The only time I ever use coconut in cooking is when I make my Italian Cream Cake. I am not a baker. As a matter of fact, I am a pretty poor baker. But I make a mean Italian Cream Cake. The coconut is not native to Italy. One might find a few in gardens or greenhouses way down in Sicily, but coconut isn’t found in a lot of Italian foods. It’s probably in Italian Cream Cake because some devil-worshiping American put it there. It’s in the actual cake batter and it probably helps to add moisture to the cake, but if I didn’t tell you, you would never know it’s in there, and that’s the way coconut ought to be used in a recipe, like it’s not in there.

In conclusion, as you might have guessed by now, I hate coconut. Keep it out of my cookies.


Robert’s Italian Cream Cake

1 cup                        Butter, softened
2 cups                      Sugar
5 large                     Eggs, separated
2  1 /2 cups             All-purpose flour
1 tsp                         Baking soda
1 cup                         Buttermilk
2 /3 cup                  Pecans, finely chopped
1 tsp                         Vanilla extract
1 can                         Flaked coconut (3 1 /2 oz.)
1 /2 tsp                    Cream of Tartar
3 Tbl                         Grand Marnier
1 recipe                    Cream Cheese Frosting

Grease and flour three nine-inch round cake pans.  Line pans with wax paper;
grease paper, and set aside.


Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well.  Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Combine flour and baking soda.  Add buttermilk and flour alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Stir in pecans, vanilla, and coconut.


Beat egg whites at high speed in a large bowl until foamy.  Add cream of tartar; beat until
stiff peaks form. Gently fold beaten egg whites into batter. Pour batter into prepared pans.


Bake at 350 degrees for 25 or 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool in pans 10 minutes, remove from pans; peel off wax paper; and let cool completely on wire racks.  Brush each cake layer with 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Spread cream cheese frosting between layers and on sides and top of cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8 oz.) pkg             Cream cheese, softened
1 (3 oz.) pkg             Cream cheese, softened
3 /4 cup                    Butter, softened
1  1 /2                        Powdered sugar, sifted
1 1 /2 cups               Pecans, chopped
1 Tbl                          Vanilla extract

Beat first three ingredients at medium speed of electric mixer until smooth.
Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy; stir in pecans
and vanilla.

Recent Posts

Father’s Day 2024

By the time this column is published Father’s Day will be several days in the rearview mirror. That may be…

Read more

For the Love of Fish

This month kicked off my 44th year in the restaurant business. The first seven years were spent working for other…

Read more

Big Apple Birthdays

BROOKLYN— Growing up I had relatives in New York. My maternal grandmother and grandfather lived here for 10 years or…

Read more