Harry’s Homecoming + Pesto Recipe

I’m a fan of the first lines in books. But I also love the last lines in movies. In a film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s movie, “Cannery Row,” John Huston states – in one of the film’s greatest accounts, that this aspect of Morgan Freeman states that “the world was once again spinning in greased canyons.” I don’t know if this line is in Steinbeck’s novel because I probably only read Cliff’s Notes in high school, and that was over 40 years ago, but I know exactly what he was talking about.

My son wants to make restaurant work a profession. Nothing pushed or encouraged him. The restaurant business is brutal enough for people passionate about our industry, and it’s miserable for people who devote only half the way (or those who work at it only for the money). So, I made an eight-year plan, and he’s been — mostly — following through for the past two years.

He was due to get a business degree first. The plan’s four-year extension is still in place, though we’ve given a name audible. His second semester coincided with the onset of COVID. His college career for the next three semesters was full of Zoom classes and challenges. This fall he seemed to falter a bit and continued to express his desire to get out and start working in the industry. I kept telling him, “We’ll stick to the plan we agreed on.” But around Christmas he convinced me that taking a break and working in the kitchen for a while might help recharge his batteries.

That’s when Tuscany came into the picture.

In 2011, I moved my family to Europe for six months. We all loved it, our lives changed during that time, and none of us have been the same since. Although I think it affected the boy the most. He was struck by a severe case of wanderlust and traveled to Tuscany often. We all love that area. Maybe he likes the most. So, I made a deal with him that we would skip his last year of college, if he promised he would one day finish. I can’t say much because I did the same (although I graduated high school in 1979, and finally walked into my college graduation ceremony as part of the class of 2000).

He could work with a friend of mine in Tuscany for a few months before heading off to culinary school which would bring him back to the eight year plan.

He got a one-bedroom apartment, on the third floor, in the Santo Spirito neighborhood of Florence, and took a 45-minute bus a day to the small town of Tavernel to work with my friend Paolo and with his mother, Giuliana, in the kitchen. That was five months ago.

My wife and I spent six weeks there in the spring while I was working on hosting tours, and we had to see him often. He seemed to thrive in that environment. He knew the area better than me, and I’ve spent two months out of each year there for the past several years. It was so refreshing that he took us to his favorite places in Florence and made new friends there.

He appears to have matured five years in five months. It was definitely the right decision, and now he’s ready to go to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in September. There, he will resume the plan we agreed on several years ago, and spend two years to become a chef. After that, he’ll go out and work with my friends at work for two years – first, in Chicago, then in New Orleans. Then, and only then, did I tell him he could go back to one of our restaurants. But he will start from the bottom just like everyone else. It doesn’t matter what his title is, where he worked, or what his abilities are. It will start at the bottom and work its way up.

The nice part about the plan is that if – anywhere along the way – he became frustrated with the industry, or frustrated with the restaurant business, he would have gotten himself out early and saved a lot of misery for everyone else. So far, this does not appear to be the case. He seems very excited and excited about his possible future working in restaurants, and even more so from five months ago.

I picked him up at the airport two days ago. His flight in Washington, D.C. was delayed, and he arrived late Sunday night. He wanted American food. The plan was to go to my friend Susan Spicer’s restaurant, Rosedale, where one could find the best grilled shrimp on the planet. But I had to cancel the reservation when the flight was delayed. So, we spent the night in our apartment. I had Popeyes spicy fried chicken waiting for him when he came by the door. It’s a tradition I’ve always done. Once back in America after a long, long Italian tour, I bumped into Popeyes at the Atlanta airport before heading home.

The next morning, he woke up early because his internal clock was still adjusting to a new time zone. That was great for me because it gave us the opportunity to have breakfast. Our favorite breakfast spot in New Orleans is La Boulangerie Bakery. We got in the car and drove from Marigny to Magazine Street. We followed the news inside and out and talked about what he learned and what he experienced. We talked about the recipes he collected while he was there, and the things he cooked in Juliana’s kitchen. We will be using several of these in the coming days.

He was excited to come home and spend the night in his bed and see his mother. This morning we woke up and had breakfast at The Midtowner. He and I have eaten breakfast together all over the world. When we took the long flight, the girls always slept late, but I always got up and had breakfast together. We have so many good memories of having breakfast in 72 European cities during this wonderful six month period.

Although none of these breakfasts can compare to what we enjoyed this morning in our breakfast restaurant. He wanted eggs and bacon cooked American style. He hadn’t eaten cannabis in nearly half a year and was looking forward to it. He also wanted a biscuit. He usually doesn’t eat bread, or at least a lot of it, but he tore this cracker off in one sitting.

A couple of friends showed up and told us stories. My son talked about his travels in Italy and all over Europe. She moved away from the table and went to the scene as he spoke. It looks as if he turned five in the last five months. The sound was the right call.

Today’s breakfast I will never forget. Once again, the world revolves in greased canyons.

onwards.

Robert St. John, a Hattiesburg resident, restaurateur, chef, and author. He has written a syndicated weekly newspaper column for over 20 years.


pesto

Ingredients:

• 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts or almonds

• 2 cups fresh basil leaves (2 ounces by weight)

• 1 tablespoon minced garlic

• pinch of kosher salt

• 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

• 3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese

• 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

directione:

Combine nuts, basil, garlic and salt in a food processor. Slowly add olive oil. The cheese is lifted and folded.

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