Last Friday I finished a photoshoot for my new cookbook, “Mississippi Mornings.” This is a book I’ve wanted to write for nearly a decade, and have been seriously considering for five or six years. Recipe testing finally started last February and we got through about half the list before I had to travel to Europe for work. A week after my return in May, we started testing the recipes again.
Recipe testing for cookbooks is very different from creating recipes for restaurants. In restaurants, I’m able to speak a form of shorthand to chefs, and most of the supporting ingredients are already in the building; we’re just discovering new ways to use them. Cookbook recipe tests are more accurate and the result will be prepared in home kitchens. Most of the ingredients are not found in commercial kitchens where we do a lot of the recipe testing. There’s still some shorthand because we’ve worked together for so long, but the end result is six to eight servings in someone’s house instead of a single dish in a restaurant dining room.
The photo shoot for the cookbook started three weeks ago. We shot for a full week, then took a break for several days before shooting last week, finishing on Friday. The photo shoot for the breakfast cookbook was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had working on a book. A real team effort. There were at least five or six of us working together at all times.
Several years ago, I worked as a food stylist alongside a New York photographer on a grilling book I published. It was a great experience but nothing like the one we just finished. I’ve always enjoyed the collaboration and synergy that comes from working with one or more people on a project. It was the epitome of teamwork.
Chef Linda Roderick, a longtime collaborator, led the food testing for the book. She and I worked together – off and on – for 20 years. She was the Executive Chef of the Purple Parrot for a decade or more and worked with me on recipe tests for the first cookbooks I wrote. Scott Strickland, we call him Scotty, is also a Purple Parrot veteran of over 20 years. Anyone who dined at this restaurant from the year 2000 until it closed would have eaten food prepared by Scotty. He teamed up with Linda and did a great job executing my wants and wishes while performing the breakfast recipes.
Martha Foose, a friend of nearly 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 last day of the cookbook shoot. Martha has written four cookbooks and authored a dozen more. She has a great eye and a perfect touch when it comes to style. She also tastes good. I look forward to working with her to 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 fine-tuning our ideas as we went along during filming. The evidence I’ve seen so far has me excited about the finished product.
Anthony Thaxton – straight from our regional Emmy win for the Walter Anderson documentary we co-produced – is designing the book. He designed the companion book to the documentary last fall and did a great job. This book is now in its second printing. He’s never designed a cookbook before, but I’ve yet to discover a task that Thaxton isn’t up to when asked.
My overworked personal assistant, Simeon Williford, was there every step of the way and helped with logistics, planning, scheduling and general errands. Everyone needs a Simeon in their life. Especially someone with ADHD who’s as dizzy 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 looked like a flea market for the past three weeks.
I have often written that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Whether or not this will become one of my favorite cookbooks remains to be seen. From my point of view here, in the development phase, it is certainly a strong contender.
Although I decided last week to postpone the release of the book. “Mississippi Mornings” was originally slated for release in November, and the book-signing promotional tour would follow through Christmas. With all the supply chain issues I’ve encountered and the horror stories I’ve heard from other authors – in addition to the aforementioned Walter Anderson book being three weeks late last November – I chose to push back the release date of the book to next fall. It was the right decision. The copy editor in New York was eager to do the editing and wanted to make sure all the recipes and photos were perfect. The process took longer than usual. It will be a much better book when it comes out in 2023 instead of this November.
Moving the release date to a fall 2023 calendar will allow me to add a few more recipes and cover breakfasts during a few different seasons of the year. It will also give me the chance to work even more with these wonderful people I have spent so much time with over the past few weeks. My key to cookbook success is the same as my key to business success: surround yourself with people more talented than you, set the course, steer the ship, and step aside if necessary.
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.
Crayfish omelet with horseradish cream
Yield: 4 omelets
From the upcoming Mississippi Mornings cookbook
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup yellow onion, small dice
• 1/3 cup bell pepper, diced
• 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
• 2 teaspoons of Creole seasoning
• 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
• 1/2 pound of crayfish tails
• 1 cup pepperjack cheese, grated
• 12 eggs
• 2 tablespoons of water
• 2 tablespoons half and half
• 4 teaspoons unsalted butter for cooking omelettes
• 1 cup sour cream
• 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
• 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
• 1/4 teaspoon of salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
1. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion and bell pepper and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Incorporate the garlic, Creole seasoning and salt, continue cooking for 2 minutes. Stir in the crayfish tails and cook for another 3-4 minutes until the crayfish are heated through. Remove from fire.
2. Mix all the ingredients. The sauce can be made ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
3. Once the sauce and filling are done, follow the instructions for making an omelet. Divide the filling and the cheese into 4. Garnish the omelettes and cover with the sauce.