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Robert St. John

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

Simply the Best

May 29, 2024

For the 26-plus years this column has been in existence I have typed over 1,000 words a week, every week, never missing a week. That’s over 1,300,000 total words published in your newspaper. These days, in addition to newspapers, this column is also consumed online and through email subscriptions.

In the early days I took controversial stances on a few topics. The posturing was lighthearted and never about anything serious but, at one time or another, I received hate mail from PETA, the Girl Scouts, people who eat possum, Hormel the manufacturers of Spam, and fans of Barbra Streisand. Those were the days before I found my voice and there was a lot of forced humor in the writing.

In 2011, I took a long overseas trip with my family. Over a six month period we travelled to 17 countries and 72 cities on two continents. That is when the worm turned in my writing and I found my voice. I had no other choice. I was in challenging conditions and the only option was to be true to myself and the words on the page. Since then, I have shied away from humor and have focused on writing what I know— food, travel, family, the South, and growing up in the South.

I feel blessed to have grown up in the South, actually the Deep South. Geographically and emotionally, it doesn’t get any deeper than the south in which I reside— the Piney Woods of Mississippi. I feel fortunate to be a sixth generation citizen of this area. The Piney Woods have been blessed by geographical proximity. We are one hour north of the Gulf of Mexico and benefit from the outstanding bounty of seafood that comes from those warm waters, and 90 minutes northeast of New Orleans, a city that is home to the most unique and flavor-rich food in the country.

We value faith, family, friends, food, and fun down here. Family and food are on my mind this morning. To be more specific, it’s mayonnaise.

Today I’ll take what might appear to be a controversial stance to some. But, unlike the old days, I won’t take the stance for comedic effect, and it is far from a controversial stance to me. This I believe to my core— Blue Plate mayonnaise is the best mayonnaise. Better than Hellman’s. Better than Kewpie. And yes, better than Duke’s. Period. End of discussion.

Southerners are religiously true to a product, team, or cause. It’s why football rivalries are so heated in this region. We believe deeply and devoutly in our teams.

Blue Plate mayonnaise is my team.

To someone from the Northeast or Pacific Coast, the American South is anything below the Mason-Dixon line. To those of us who live down here, the South is more complex than that. Virginia is considered the South, and on many maps so is Texas. West Texas and the Northern Neck of Virginia are worlds apart.

My South covers Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, The Florida Panhandle, Kentucky, parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana. So, what does that have to do with mayonnaise?

The difference between South Carolina and Louisiana can be determined between their two most famous cities— Charleston and New Orleans. Both cities were settled early, both are port cities, both have loads of charm, enchanting histories, and storied pasts. Though Charleston was settled by the British. New Orleans was settled by the French. Therein lies the difference in the sentimentality, therein lies the disparity in the food.

The difference between South Carolina and Louisiana can also be determined by the mayonnaises that were born there. Duke’s was born in Greenville, South Carolina. Blue Plate was born and raised in New Orleans. A few years ago, Blue Plate moved its manufacturing to another great southern state, Tennessee. But the recipe and flavor profile are 100% New Orleans. It will always be a New Orleans mayonnaise in my book. I prefer New Orleans over Charleston and I prefer Blue Plate mayonnaise over Duke’s.

Duke’s has become all the rage as of late. I had never heard of Duke’s a decade ago. It wasn’t that I was disconnected. My life is food and the food business. I live in the Deep South. I don’t hunt, fish, or play golf. Food and restaurants are my hobby. It’s what I do. I have spent 43 years in the restaurant business and 62 years as a devout disciple of southern food. A few years back, when I began to hear a few chefs I know— along with a couple of regional publications— begin to mention Duke’s mayonnaise I wondered if they may be on to something. I watched as it seemed to become the trendy selection of a few southern foodies and food writers. I tried it. It wasn’t Blue Plate.

When I was a kid there was only Hellman’s and Blue Plate. Duke’s wasn’t available in this area. My mother used Blue Plate, her mother used Blue Plate, and her mother preferred Blue Plate. It’s in my genetic makeup by now.

Blue Plate is better, and I’ll die on that hill. Is it because they use only egg yolks? Maybe. Is it because of the bright acidity? Perhaps. Is it because the tanginess factor has been tweaked just right? Possibly. Is it because my family has been using it for generations? One could make an argument based on that assumption. But, in the end— and after all the newfound hype, bowl games, magazine features, and superstar endorsements for the other guys— Blue Plate just tastes better.

I was a part of a true blind taste test earlier in the year. Blue Plate won. To me, it wasn’t even close. It’s not just me. The food writers at “Epicurious” blind taste-tested more than a dozen mayonnaises and Blue Plate won out. That’s no surprise to me. But to all the Duke’s devotees out there— many of whom are my good friends— you might want to try a blind taste test for yourselves.

So, there it is. It will certainly be an unpopular opinion among a few of my contemporaries and colleagues. It’s been a couple of decades since I received hate mail because of this column, and I am ready to stand my ground against all the Dukies out there. I have acidity, viscosity, brightness, and flavor on my side. But don’t come at me unless you’ve done a blind taste test, side-by-side against the best commercially produced mayonnaise in the history of mayonnaise, Blue Plate.

Homemade is best. Blue Plate is next.

Onward.

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