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Robert St. John

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

It’s A Tough Job, But Somebody’s Got to Chew It

February 7, 2018

SEATTLE— I’m in the middle of a 48-hour jaunt to Seattle where I am working with an equipment company who will supply the machinery to cook several of our offerings at The Midtowner, the new breakfast-lunch restaurant we’re opening in June. Equipment testing, and its proper selection, sizing, and placement, is one of the key components to early success in the restaurant business. That phase is almost complete. From here we move into recipe testing and development. Actually, I’m deep into that phase already. It involves breakfast food— my favorite— and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Recipe testing is one of the best parts of my job. Whether I am in the process of opening a new restaurant or writing a new cookbook, recipes need to be conceived, thought out, developed, tested, re-tested, and then re-tested again. All along the way, eating is involved. I love my work.

This year, we’ll be opening up two new concepts and releasing a new coffee-table cookbook with all-new recipes. There will be a lot of recipe testing. Lately I’ve been working through various biscuit and pancake recipes.

One would think that biscuits and pancake recipe testing— since they are both relatively easy to make— is simple. That’s not necessarily true. The problem is that there are hundreds of ways to make pancakes and biscuits. Each recipe is a slight variation over the other.

When opening a breakfast place, there are a few things that must be knocked out of the park. Everyone in the kitchen must know how to properly cook eggs. Again, “it’s just an egg,” right? No. You’d be amazed at how many breakfast places blow it when doing something as simple as scrambling or frying an egg. There is an art to scrambling the perfect egg. It can’t be too runny, and it can’t be too hard. There should never be any hint of brown on it, and it must be served immediately. In Las Vegas, some of the most sought-after chefs are the ones who excel in cooking perfectly prepared sunny-side up eggs. Egg chefs are a prized hire in the Las Vegas hotel world.

Additionally, if one is going to open a local, southern restaurant where the breakfast menu makes up 50% of the offerings, then the pancakes and biscuits must be the stars of the show. For the past two weeks, I have been in the middle of recipe testing for pancakes and biscuits, and I’m loving every minute of it.

I never tire of eating bread. As a matter of fact, I’m probably a breadaholic. Jesus said, “Man cannot live by bread, alone.” I know he was speaking metaphorically— and far be it for me to contradict the Son of God— but I think I could give it a pretty good shot living on bread, alone.

Actually, if I had to choose one foodstuff to eat, and only eat, for the rest of my life, it would probably be bread. I’d have to find some protein somewhere, but I’d give it the old college try. If we were testing seafood dishes or casseroles, I would get bored with that pretty fast. I’ll never tire of testing and eating breadstuff.

Developing biscuits is not as easy as one thinks. Most breakfast places use a just-add-water mix, or pre-baked biscuits that they pull out of the freezer. That won’t do in this concept. There are several things we are planting our flag on, and freshly baked biscuits— using real butter and buttermilk— rolled out every morning, is one of the key elements of the concept. We are almost there. The batch we made this week is just about perfect. I’m going to tweak the salt a bit and then we’ll be done.

Pancakes, on the other hand, are a bit trickier. My grandmother’s pancakes are the best I’ve ever eaten. Ever. Period. She made them for 70 years, and I’ve been making them for 40. The problem is that they don’t really work in a professional food setting. They are thinner than normal, lighter, and a little more delicate. In a commercial kitchen, during the heat of the rush, food must be pumped out quickly. Her recipe is not going to work in that setting. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’ve got five months, and a big belly that was made for recipe testing.

Bacon, sausage, omelets, and a few surprises are on the testing calendar next. But I might keep coming back to pancakes and biscuits over the next few months just to make sure that we nailed it.

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to chew it.


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