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Robert St. John

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

The Personality of Food

November 13, 2019

“Donuts are the funnest food.” That’s what my friend, co-collaborator, and business partner Wyatt Waters says. He’s right you know. I had never thought about it, but when we were in the recipe testing and development phase of our donut shop, he made that statement.

After he proclaimed donuts to be the funnest food, I began to think about it, and I tried to come up with a food that might be more fun than donuts. Cake is kind of fun, but not nearly as fun as donuts. Cake is not even as fun as pie. There are all sorts of snack foods and candy bars that should be fun, but when compared to donuts, they come up short. Seriously, I like a Snickers bar, but is a Snickers more fun than a raspberry and cream-cheese filled donut with sprinkles? Not in this lifetime and not in the next.

Donuts don’t even have to be topped and filled to be fun. Even regular glazed donuts are fun. Mini donuts are cute AND fun.

Waters was married last spring and I catered the wedding. I made the groom’s cake out of donuts. Waters, like me, is a huge Beatles fan, so instead of a bride and groom on top of the cake I used commemorative toy figures from the Beatles movie “Yellow Submarine.” It was a fun wedding, and it was certainly a fun groom’s cake. There was nothing left but a toy yellow submarine by the end of the day.

As I contemplated the degree to which donuts were fun, I set out to disprove his theory and to find a food that was more fun than donuts.

There are several fake fun foods. I remember when my kids were little, squeeze margarine would come in different colors pink and blue. There was nothing fun about that. That company was trying too hard. Margarine is pretty awful to begin with, but blue margarine is just sad. The makers of that product set out to make a fun food and missed the mark by a mile.

There are breakfast cereals that are fun. Even to this day, I love Cap’n Crunch. It makes me happy. So does Count Chocula. I rank those high of the food fun scale. But can they push donuts from the top spot? Nope.

Jell-O could be a contender for a fun food. It’s colorful and jiggles and wiggles. But when you realize that it’s made from boiling the hides and skins of animals, it immediately drops down the food fun scale. There’s nothing fun about that.

I love French fries, and I eat way more French fries than I do donuts, but even still it would be hard to name fries more fun than donuts.

OK, so Waters was right, donuts are definitely the most fun food.

After he proclaimed that “Donuts are the funnest food,” I started thinking more about food items having distinct personalities and realized that he has a point.

Steak is probably the manliest of foods. Not wanting to get tagged as a misogynist, I asked my wife what she thought the most womanlike food is, and she answered, “petit fours.” In the early 1980s there was a book called “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” It was a satirical take on manhood, and even though I never read it, I am secure enough in my masculinity to proclaim that I do love quiche and eat it often.

After thinking about it for a while, my wife changed her answer for the most womanlike food to mimosas. “Not white wine?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “Mimosas are more girly.”

Soups are the schizophrenics of the food world. The personalities of soup run the gamut of the Myers-Briggs scale. Bisque is prim and proper, but not as stuffy as consume. Vegetable beef soup is the most blue-collar soup, chowder is mid-management, and broth is your boring half uncle twice removed. Gumbo is the starting quarterback and captain of the football team, cream of mushroom soup is the head cheerleader, and tomato soup is the head coach.

Pancakes are love. It’s true. When have you ever eaten pancakes outside of a restaurant that weren’t cooked by someone you love, and someone who loves you? My guess is never. That is certainly the case for me.

My grandmother was the pancake cooker in our family. We called her “Muz.” Don’t ask me. I wasn’t the oldest grandchild. My brother would be the one responsible for naming her that. There are a lot of Me-Maws, May-Mays, and Gran-Grans out there, but I would venture to say that we had the only Muz, and boy could she cook pancakes.

Pancakes were her thing. There was something about her recipe that was different. Most pancakes are very bread-like with no character. All too often a pancake is just a vessel for syrup in the same way that lobster becomes a vessel for butter.

The flavor profile of most pancakes is typically the same and it, all too often, very bland and boring. Not Muz’s pancakes. She was from Nashville and so I assume that is where the recipe originated. They certainly know how to cook pancakes up there.

Whenever we spent the night at her house, she always cooked pancakes in the mornings. Many times— usually on Sunday evenings— we would have breakfast for supper, and pancakes were the stars of the show.

Even when we travelled out of town, my grandmother would mix together the dry ingredients of her pancake recipe and put them in Zip-Loc bags and add the liquid ingredients just before cooking. One of the keys to the recipe is the melted butter in the ingredient mix and the application of melted butter on the finished product just before serving.

Later in her life I remember making pancakes for her. It was the first time I had ever cooked for her, and it might have been the only time anyone made pancakes for her. That is when it struck me that pancakes are love, and I realized that anytime I had eaten pancakes— outside of a restaurant— someone who loved me, and someone I loved, prepared them for me. What greater standing could a foodstuff want?

I have over 700 recipes in the database of my website, but the most requested and downloaded recipe always has been, and always will be, Muz’s pancakes.

Waffles are cheerful, French toast is happy, and donuts are fun. But the greatest of these is love, and pancakes are love.

This week’s recipe: Muz’s Pancakes

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