By Robert St. John
Last Friday I wrapped up a photo shoot for my new cookbook, “Mississippi Mornings.” It’s a book I’ve wanted to write for almost a decade, and one I’ve been seriously contemplating for five or six years. Recipe testing finally began this past February and we got about halfway through the roster before I had to head to Europe for work. A week after my return in May we began recipe testing again.
Recipe testing for cookbooks is much different than creating recipes for restaurants. In the restaurants I’m able to speak a form of shorthand to the chefs, and most of the support ingredients are already in the building, we’re just discovering new ways to use them. Cookbook recipe testing is more precise, and the result will be prepared in home kitchens. Most of the ingredients aren’t in the commercial kitchens where we do a lot of the recipe testing. There is still shorthand spoken because we have worked together for so long, but the final outcome is for six to eight portions in someone’s home instead of a single dish in a restaurant dining room.
The photoshoot for the cookbook began three weeks ago. We shot for a full week and then took a break for several days before shooting this past week, wrapping up on Friday. The photo shoot for the breakfast cookbook was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had working on a book. A true team effort. There were at least five or six of us working together at any one time.
Several years ago, I served as food stylist alongside a photographer from New York down on a grilling book I released. It was a great experience but nothing like the one we just completed. I have always enjoyed collaboration and the synergy that comes from working with one or more individuals on a project. This was the epitome of a team effort.
Chef Linda Roderick, a longtime collaborator headed up the food testing for the book. She and I have worked together— on and off— for 20 years. She was the executive chef at the Purple Parrot for a decade or more and worked with me on the recipe testing of the first few cookbooks I wrote. Scott Strickland, we call him Scotty, is also a veteran of the Purple Parrot for more than 20 years. Anyone who ate lunch in that restaurant from the year 2000 until we shuttered it would have eaten food prepared by Scotty. He had Linda teamed up and did an excellent job carrying out my wants and wishes while executing the breakfast recipes.
Martha Foose, a friend of almost 20 years, and a talented pastry chef and baker in her own right, served as food stylist for the shoot. She and I are in the process of opening a bakery in Hattiesburg and I signed the lease for that bakery on the final day of the cookbook shoot. Martha has written four cookbooks and ghostwritten a dozen more. She has a great eye and perfect touch when it comes to styling. She has good taste, too. I look forward to working with her as we bring this bakery to life over the next few months.
Kate Dearman, a Nashville photographer, who grew up in Hattiesburg, handled all the photographic work. She, too, has an excellent eye and had no problem tweaking our ideas as we progressed along during the shoot. The proofs I’ve seen so far get me excited about the finished product.
Anthony Thaxton— coming straight off our win for a Regional Emmy for the Walter Anderson documentary we co-produced— is designing the book. He designed the companion book to the documentary this past fall and did an excellent job. That book is now in its second printing. He’s never designed a cookbook before, but I have yet to discover a task Thaxton isn’t up to when asked.
My overworked personal assistant, Simeon Williford, was there every step of the way and helped with logistics, scheduling, planning, and just running general errands. Everyone needs a Simeon in their life. Especially someone who is has ADHD and is as scatterbrained and busy as your columnist. My wife and our friend Justin were the prop masters and the main reason our dining room, kitchen, and den have looked like a flea market for the past three weeks.
I have written often that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Whether this becomes one of my favorite cookbooks, or not, remains to be seen. From my view here in the development stage it certainly is a strong contender.
Though I decided last week to postpone the book’s release. “Mississippi Mornings” was originally scheduled to be released this November and the accompanying promotional, book-signing tour would follow leading up to Christmas. With all the supply chain issues I’ve experienced and horror stories I’ve heard from fellow authors— in addition to the aforementioned Walter Anderson book being three weeks late last November— I have chosen to push the book’s release date to next fall. It was the right decision. The copy editor in New York was chomping at the bit to get the edit done and I wanted to make sure that all the recipes and photographs were spot on. The process took longer than normal. This will be a much better book when released in 2023 instead of this November.
Moving the release date to a Fall 2023 schedule will enable me to add a few extra recipes and to cover breakfasts during a few different seasons of the year. It will also give me a chance to work even more with these wonderful people I have spent so much time with in recent weeks. My key to cookbook success is the same as my key to business success— surround yourself with people who are more talented than you, set the course, guide the ship, and get out of the way when necessary.
Yield: 4 Omelets
2 TBSP Unsalted Butter
½ cup Yellow Onion, small dice
1/3 cup Bell Pepper, small dice
1 tsp Garlic, minced
2 tsp Creole Seasoning
1 tsp Kosher Salt
½ pound Crawfish Tails
1 cup Pepperjack Cheese, shredded
2 TBSP Water
2 TBSP Half and Half
4 tsp Unsalted Butter for cooking omelets
For the omelet filling:
Melt butter in a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion and bell pepper and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic, Creole seasoning and salt, continue to cook for 2 minutes. Stir in crawfish tails and cook for 3-4 more minutes until crawfish are thoroughly heated. Remove from heat.
1 cup Sour Cream
1 TBSP Mayonnaise
1 TBSP Prepared Horseradish
¼ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
½ tsp Lemon Juice
1 TBSP Fresh Chives, chopped
Stir together all ingredients. Sauce can be made in advance and stored covered in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
(Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author who lives in Hattiesburg, Miss.)
Once the sauce and filling have been made, follow the instructions for preparing an omelet. Divide the filling and cheese into 4. Fill the omelets and top with the sauce.
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