Harry’s return + a pesto recipe

I’m a fan of the first lines in the books. But I also like the last lines in movies. In the film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row”, John Huston – in one of the greatest cinematic narrations this side of Morgan Freeman, states that “the world was spinning in greased grooves again”. I don’t know if that 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 pursue a career in the restaurant business. It’s nothing that I pushed or encouraged. The restaurant business is brutal enough for those passionate about our industry, it’s miserable for people who are only half-dedicated (or those in it just for the money). So, I put together an eight-year plan, which he – for the most part – has been following for two years.

He first had to get a business degree. That four-year stretch of the plan is still in place, though we’ve called it an audible. Her second semester at university coincided with the outbreak of COVID. Her college career over the next three semesters was filled with classes and Zoom challenges. This fall, he seemed to be floundering a bit and he kept expressing his desire to get out there and start working in the industry. “We’re going to stick to the plan we agreed on,” I kept telling him. But around Christmas, he convinced me that taking a short break and working in the kitchen for a while could help him recharge his batteries.

That’s when Tuscany came into the picture.

In 2011, I took 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 with a serious desire to travel and often returned to Tuscany. We all love this area. He probably loves at most. So I made a deal with him that we’d skip his senior year of college if he promised he’d finish one day. I couldn’t say much because I had done the same thing (although I graduated from high school in 1979 and eventually attended my college graduation ceremony in as a member of the class of 2000).

He could work for a friend of mine in Tuscany for a few months before leaving for cooking school, which would put him back on the eight-year plan.

He got a third floor one bedroom walk up apartment in the Santo Spirito area of ​​Florence and took a 45 minute bus ride every day to the small town of Tavernelle to work for my friend Paolo and with his mother Giuliana, in the kitchen. It was five months ago.

My wife and I spent six weeks there in the spring while I worked organizing tours, and we got to see it often. He seemed to thrive in this environment. He knew the area better than I did and I have spent a few months there every year for the past few years. It was so refreshing that he took us to his favorite places in Florence and introduced us to the new friends he had made there.

He seems to have matured five years in five months. It was definitely the right decision, and he’s now set to leave for the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in September. There he will take over the plan we agreed to several years ago and spend two years becoming a leader. After that he will go out and work for friends of mine in the business for two years – first in Chicago, then in New Orleans. Then, and only then, I told him he could come back to one of our restaurants. But he will start from the bottom like everyone else. No matter his title, where he worked or his abilities. It will start from the bottom and work its way up.

The nice part of the plan is that, if – anywhere along the way – he becomes disenchanted with the industry or frustrated with the restaurant business, he will have eliminated himself early and saved everyone a lot of misery. So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. He seems very excited and excited about his potential future in the restaurant business, and even more so than he was five months ago.

I picked it up at the airport two days ago. His flight was delayed in Washington DC and he arrived late Sunday evening. He wanted American food. The plan was to go to my friend Susan Spicer’s restaurant, Rosedale, where you can find the best barbecue shrimp on the planet. But I had to cancel the reservation when the flight was delayed. So we just spent the night in our apartment. I had Popeyes spicy fried chicken waiting for him when he walked through the door. It is a tradition that I have always practiced. As soon as I landed in America after a long, long Italian tour, I hit the Popeyes at Atlanta airport before flying home.

The next morning, he got up early because his internal clock was still adjusting to a new time zone. It was great for me as it allowed us to go and have breakfast. Our favorite breakfast spot in New Orleans is La Boulangerie. We got in the car and drove from Marigny to Magazine Street. We heard from home and abroad and talked about what he had learned and what he had experienced. We talked about the recipes he collected during his stay and the things he cooked in Giuliana’s kitchen. We will put a lot of it to good use in the days to come.

He was thrilled to come home and spend the night in his own bed and see his mother. This morning we got up and had lunch at Midtowner. He and I have had lunch together all over the world. When we were on the long trip, the girls always slept late, but he and I always got up and had breakfast together. We have so many fond memories of breakfasting in 72 European cities during this wonderful six month period.

Although none of those breakfasts can compare to what he and I enjoyed this morning at our breakfast. He wanted eggs and bacon cooked the American way. He hadn’t eaten hash browns in almost six months and was looking forward to them. He also wanted a cookie. He doesn’t usually eat bread, or at least a lot of bread, but he tore this cookie apart in one sitting.

A couple of friends arrived and we told stories. My son talked about his travels in Italy and all over Europe. I moved away from the counter and watched the scene as he spoke. He seems to have matured five years in the last five months. Audible was the right call.

Today’s breakfast is one I will never forget. And, once again, the world spins in greased grooves.


Hailing from Hattiesburg, Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author. He wrote a column for a weekly syndicated newspaper for over 20 years.



• 1/3 cup pine nuts or toasted almonds

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

• 1 tablespoon minced garlic

• A pinch of kosher salt

• 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

• 3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese

• 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Itinerary :

Combine walnuts, basil, garlic and salt in a food processor. Slowly add the olive oil. Remove and stir in cheese.

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