Monday, January 26, 2009

What’s In A Name?

Whenever I give a speech or speak to a classroom full of students, I always solicit questions. It’s my favorite part of the process. I am much more interested in responding to issues people are interested in than trying to decipher what they want to hear.

One of the most common questions I receive is, “How did you come up with the name Purple Parrot Café?”

I wish there was a better story behind the naming of my first restaurant, but unfortunately our moniker came from nothing more than the desire to take a few hours off.

In the summer of 1987, as my original business partner and I were preparing to open “the restaurant” as it was then called. We took a break from the stressful grind of pre-opening construction and traveled to Biloxi to a Jimmy Buffett concert. Later that night, on the way home, we started trying to come up with a name for our soon-to-be-opened restaurant. As a joke— and with Buffett’s Parrothead music still ringing in my ears— I said, “What if we call it The Purple Parrot?”

We both laughed and agreed on calling it Purple Parrot until we came up with a better name. We continued with the construction, hiring, and training process, all the while trying to come up with a better name for our business.

He suggested “Café St.John,” since I had been a lifelong 26-year resident of the community. I quickly shot that title down. I can’t remember any of the other potential candidates but we eventually ran out of time, and for lack of a better name, it stuck.

Other than a menu heavily based on fresh seafood, there is nothing tropical about the Purple Parrot Café. We are as inland as an inland restaurant can be.

“It must great to own a restaurant and be able to ‘eat out’ whenever you want.” I get that question all of the time. Actually, I don’t eat as a customer in my restaurants very often.

I am a terrible dining companion when I’m my own customer. I can’t help but be in manager-mode as I look around the dining room scouring every nook and cranny in search of a picture that needs straightening, or a glass of tea that needs more ice in it. I worry about the customer who might be trying to flag down their server or that small piece of bread that accidentally dropped off of a server’s tray.

My business partner Clint Taylor and I call it “Restaurant eyes”, my wife Jill calls it the “The curse of a restaurateur’s wife”. “As fate would have it,” she says “We own the two best restaurants in town, and you won’t eat in either one of them with your own family!”

In fact, I eat there all of the time. But most of my dining occurs without my family in the back office, or while standing up tasting new dishes with the other chefs in the kitchen. There are also many meals eaten out of Styrofoam To-Go boxes in the office or at home and the occasional quick lunch with a friend at the bar.

After 21 years I have become a better customer in my restaurants. I am certainly better at answering questions, and I am grateful that— even though it has no bearing on the concept— we kept the name Purple Parrot Café.

PS—Allow me to brag a little. The Purple Parrot Café was just awarded a Four-Diamond rating in the 2009 AAA Travel Guide. There are only two independent restaurants in Mississippi with that high honor (KC’s in Cleveland is the other). As a matter of fact, New Orleans— one of the nation’s top five restaurant cities— only had six Four-Diamond award honorees out of the city’s 980 restaurants. Thanks to our managers, staff, and customers over the last 21years for making this honor possible.

Purple Parrot Cafe Corn and Crab Bisque

1/2 teaspoon Clarified Butter or canola oil
1/3 cup yellow onion, medium dice
1/4 cup green bell peppers, medium dice
1/4 cup celery, medium dice
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons basil, dried
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 1/2 quarts Chicken Stock (or low sodium chicken broth)
1/4 cup white wine
1 Tablespoon brandy
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
2 teaspoons Hot Sauce
3 cups fresh corn kernels, scraped with pulp (or 2 cans whole kernal corn, drained)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup flour
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup Half-n-Half
1 Tablespoon Creole Seasoning
2 pounds jumbo lump crabmeat, picked of all shell

In an 8-quart saucepan, sweat onion, bell pepper, and celery in oil over medium heat until soft. Add garlic, basil, pepper, cayenne, and thyme. Stir well, making sure that spices are incorporated. Add stock, wine, brandy, Worcestershire, and Hot Sauce. Cook on high heat 7–10 minutes, then reduce heat to medium. While stock is boiling, make a light peanut butter–colored roux with the oil and flour. Add the roux to the hot stock and stir thoroughly. Add heavy cream, Half-n-Half, Creole Seasoning, and crabmeat. Serve hot and garnish with freshly chopped parsley.Yield: 1 gallon
The 11 Worst Foods of 2008

I have been told that more gym memberships are sold in January than during the other months of the year, combined.

Being in the restaurant business for 28 years, I can attest that more diets are started during the first month of the year. I can personally confirm that most diets don’t make it to February.

Now that we’re nearing the end of the month— as calorie counters and carb critics begin to crave “real food”— I thought I would share an email I received from the people at

Each year the Daily Spark publishes a list of the worst food of the previous year ( ). I should mention that “worst” does not necessarily mean “bad tasting.” The Daily Spark is only interested in physical condition and nutrition. When the Spark people say “worst,” they are speaking in terms of health and wellbeing.

The 11 Worst Foods of 2008 list starts out with a harmless cup of caramel-flavored hot chocolate from a very popular national coffee chain that weighs in at a surprising 550 calories with 24 grams of fat. One fast food restaurant’s Gourmet Mushroom Swiss Burger contains 600 calories and 36 grams of fat, another fast food burger chain’s Mushroom Swiss Steakhouse Burger has 850 calories and 48 grams of fat— no fries, no cola, just the burger.

Some of the findings were surprising. At a mid-scale casual national Italian chain, the Seared Scallops Salad—a healthy menu alternative, one would think— carried 1,270 calories and 94 grams of fat. I am always baffled by people who are trying to eat healthfully while dumping tons of cream and oil based dressings on their cheese-filled greens.

Other findings were scary. One could wake up to a stack of Butterscotch Rocks pancakes at a national pancake chain and kick off the day with 1,310 calories and 52 grams of fat. Guess what’s for lunch? Rice Cakes. Guess what’s for dinner? Water.

A national chicken chain sells a Fully Loaded Box Meal that packs 1,320 calories and a fast-food taco chain sells an item that they call Fully Loaded Nachos that lives up to its name and is loaded with 1,390 calories and 83 grams of fat. It’s probably a good idea to stay away from things that are fully “loaded” until we reach our ideal body weight.

One of the biggest surprises came in at number two on the worst-foods list and is sold in a national sandwich chain. The item is a Prime Rib Cheesesteak sandwich on toasted bread which packs 1,490 calories and 88 grams of fat. A sandwich.

I’m a big guy. My daily caloric intake needs hover somewhere around 3,000 calories per day. That means as long as I take in roughly 3,000 total calories a day, and as long as those calories are a good mix of lean protein, complex, high-fiber carbohydrates, and healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, not cream and cheese), I can maintain a hale and hearty lifestyle.

I would guess that the average woman needs roughly 2,000 calories a day to maintain her ideal body weight. It just so happens that the average woman can blow her entire daily caloric intake on one menu item sold at a national casual chain restaurant. The number one item on Spark’s 2008 list was an order of Texas Cheese Fries with Jalapeño Ranch Dressing which tips the scales at 2,070 calories and 160 grams of fat. The dish also contains almost two days worth of sodium.

I am certainly not disparaging any of the restaurants on the list. Actually, I am chief among the sinners. My restaurants sell all sorts of good-tasting, yet fattening foods. Julia Child once told me that the key to eating well is “moderation.” It certainly worked for her.

So here’s to all of the New Year’s resolution dieters who are starting to waver and are craving cheese, fried food, and pancakes. Hang in there. Be strong. I’m with you. I’m 20 down with 20 to go. We’ll make it together, and when we do, the cheese fries are on me!

Fish Tacos with Fresh Fruit Pico di Gallo or Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salsa

2# mahi mahi filets

2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine seasoning, sprinkle fish with seasoning, cover and refrigerate for one hour.
Cook the fish, prepare your outdoor grill to cook over a medium heat. Lightly oil the fish and grill for 4-5 minutes on each side.
Allow the fish to cool slightly then cut into thin strips.

To serve:
Allow guests to make their own taco creations. Set out the cooked fish and prepared salsas along with:

1 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
24 corn tortillas

Place 2-3 thin fish strips in each tortilla and add a small amount of the shredded cabbage and Fresh Fruit Pico di Gallo or Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salsa.
Yield : Tacos for 6-8 people

Fresh Fruit Pico di Gallo

1 cup fresh tomatoes, small diced
1/4 cu red onions, small diced
2 Tbl. cilantro, chopped
2 tsp fresh jalapenos, seeds removed and minced
1/2 cup pineapple, small diced
1 kiwi, peeled and small dice
1/2 cup orange segments
1/2 cup lime segments
1/2 tsp Salt

Combine all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salsa

1 Tbl olive oil
1/4 cup yellow onion, minced
2 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp dry oregano
1 1/2 cups fresh tomato concassee (or 1 can rotel tomatoes- 10 ounces)
1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh sweet corn cut from the cob
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp fresh lime juice

Place the olive oil in a small stainless steel sauce pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, salt, cumin, coriander and oregano to the warm oil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning. Add in the rotel tomatoes and allow the mixture to simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add in the black beans and corn and cook for 5 more minutes. Stir in the thinly sliced green onions and lime juice and remove from the heat.
Culinary Infidelity

I have been cheating on my wife.

It's true. I've been sneaking around behind her back, and lately my rendezvous' have been getting more frequent. I feel guilty and believe it’s time to air out my dirty laundry. This might seem like an odd forum to address marital infidelity, but I am not Catholic so this medium will have to serve as my confession.

Maybe I should clarify that another woman has nothing to do with my unfaithfulness. No. I have cheated on my wife with food.

Raw oysters are my mistress. My wife believes strongly that no one should eat raw oysters. She's read alarmist-authored articles and half-cocked studies that speak to the dangers of consuming raw oysters. I, on the other hand, grew up eating raw oysters. I love them.

One of the biggest disputes in our 20-year relationship was over raw oysters. After that I figured that it would be easier to stop eating them than to deal with the conflict— a man has to pick his battles.

Enter the paramour.

My Hattiesburg bar concept, The Mahogany Bar, began serving oysters on the half shell last year. Originally we were purchasing our oysters from P&J Oysters out of New Orleans. They are the gold standard for oysters. All of the great restaurants and oyster bars throughout New Orleans use P&J. They're great, but I was able to resist them and keep my marriage pure.

Then we changed our oyster supplier.

When we brought in the new company, I had to taste-test the new oysters. After all, I am the executive chef . I never thought we’d be able to best our original supplier. My marriage would be safe. I was wrong. The oysters were amazing. They were— by far— the best I had ever eaten. Plump, clean, salty, cold, and just the right size. I succumbed to the moment, gave in to temptation, and ate two dozen on the spot.

Remorse set in. I felt guilty, but I held on to the hope that this might have been a fluke, and that my time away from oysters had made my taste buds grow fonder. A few weeks later, walking through the bar, I noticed a bartender shucking a dozen. They looked so pretty. As I walked past they seemed to be giving me a siren call. I gave in to temptation again and ate another two dozen oysters to make sure that the first time wasn’t a fluke and that these oysters were, in fact, the most unbelievably tasty oysters on the planet. They were.

I put my staff on full alert. Be on the lookout for my wife. Give me the signal if she comes anywhere close to the building. I did whatever it took not to get caught with an oyster fork in my hand. I made sure not to come home with horseradish on my breath or the smell of cocktail sauce on my collar.

Before long my culinary infidelity intensified and I began having weekly oyster trysts in the afternoon. Then the trysts became more frequent. Now I am riddled with guilt and I have made half of my staff accomplices to my gastronomic adultery.

Recently, it’s gotten worse. I have been two-timing my wife AND my mollusky mistress. The courtesan: Mashed potatoes.

Over a month ago, my wife and I started a diet together. Potatoes and bread are not on the "allowed" food list. Unfortunately the beginning of the diet coincided with one of my restaurants— The Crescent City Grill— offering a great new side-dish: home-style mashed potatoes.

I love mashed potatoes. My grandmother made the best. They were light, and buttery with little lumps in them, hearty, wholesome, filling, real, comfort food. Our new home-style like-your-grandmother-used-to-make mashed potatoes replaced a roasted-garlic potato offering that I never liked. They are delicious. Whenever I eat our mashed potatoes, I post two servers at each door. “Tell me if you see her coming”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about keeping a secret apartment across town— a place to eat oysters on the half shell and mashed potatoes and sweet rolls and maybe even oyster-flavored sweet rolls on a bed of mashed potatoes. Is there a 12-step program for this? “Hi, my name is Robert, and I am a food philanderer.”

Fried Oyster Salad

4 Cups Iceberg Lettuce, cut into 2” squares
2 Cups Green Leaf Lettuce, cut into 2” squares
1/3 cup Roasted Red Bell Pepper, small dice
1 cup Shaved Red Cabbage
1/2 cup Bacon, cooked and chopped
1 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated into large shreds, divided
3/4 cup Red Onion, thinly shaved
4 Hard Boiled Eggs, chopped

Fried Oysters

32 Oysters, freshly shucked
2 cups Corn meal
1/4 cup Corn flour
2 tsp Salt
2 Tbl + 1 tsp Creole Seasoning (recipe page xx)
Peanut Oil for frying

Heat oil in cast iron skillet to 350 degrees.

Combine cornmeal, corn flour, salt and Creole seasoning. Drop oysters into cornmeal mixture and drop one at a time into hot oil. Fry until golden and crispy (approximately five minutes). Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Hold in a 200 degree oven for 3-5 minutes while completing the assembly of the Salad

Comeback Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise
1/ 2 cup ketchup
1/ 2 cup chili sauce
1/ 2 cup cottonseed oil
1/ 2 cup yellow onion, grated
3 Tbl lemon juice
2 Tbl garlic, minced
1 Tbl paprika
1 Tbl water
1 Tbl Worcestershire
1 tsp pepper
1/ 2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and mix well.

Yield: 3 1/2 cups

To assemble the salad:

Place both lettuces, shredded cabbage, red bell peppers, chopped bacon and half of the parmesan cheese in a large mixing bowl. Toss the lettuce mixture with 1 1/2 cups of the comeback dressing. The lettuce should be lightly coated with the dressing (if you feel that the salad needs more dressing, add another 1/2 cup).

Divide the salad onto 8 serving plates/ Top each salad with a small amount of the remaining parmesan cheese, shaved red onion and chopped egg. Place four fried oysters on each salad and serve immediately.

Serve the remaining Comeback sauce in a side dish to be used as a dipping sauce for the oysters.

Yield 8 servings

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Move Over, Ralph Lauren, The Burger King’s In Town

When I was a young boy, a neighbor asked if Santa was going to bring me everything on my Christmas wish list. I told her, “Yes.”

My mother jumped in and said, “Don’t be so sure, Robert. You know Santa keeps a naughty and nice list.”

To which I replied, “Well, I acted worse than this last year and still got everything I wanted.”

In 2008 I received everything I wanted for Christmas except a bottle of Burger King's meat-scented cologne, Flame.

I was hoping there would be a bottle of Flame in my stocking Christmas morning, but I must have been on the naughty list. That’s right, Burger King, the fast-food giant, has gotten into the fragrance business.

Flame, Burger King’s cologne for men, was released this fall and carries the tagline: "The scent of seduction with the hint of flame-broiled meat." It’s the truth, it’s actual, Burger King makes cologne. I am not joking. We have now reached a point in this Fast Food Nation where we are purchasing toiletries with a side of fries and an apple pie.

Who was the food-service executive that thought this would be a good idea? I haven’t visited a Burger King restaurant in a long time, but I wonder if they have gone the department store route and started posting a nicely dressed young woman at the end of the order counter with a tester bottle, “Double Whopper, hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, and would you like to try our new meat-scented cologne?”

“No thank you. I think I’ll just order some meat-scented meat, and eat it between two pieces of bread with mustard.”

I am not a cologne wearer. I mostly smell like soap. I have reached a point in my life where I don’t even need to purchase shampoo. Soap and a washcloth work just fine on both my hair and body. But if I did wear cologne, I wouldn’t wear one that smelled like meat, or fish, or any food product. I’d say, “Give me some of whatever Brad Pitt is wearing. That seems to work pretty well for him.”

What kind of woman is attracted to the smell of charred meat? I like beef. I eat a lot of it. A medium-rare prime, New York Strip is one of the greatest culinary joys in my life. Though I’m afraid that if I sprayed some of Burger King's cologne on me, I'd have Rottweilers chasing me down the street thinking I was an over-sized T-bone.

What's next? Underarm deodorant that smells like a fish sandwich? Mountain Dew-flavored mouthwash? Maybe other fast-food restaurants will get in on the act. Will we see Big Mac special-sauce shampoo?

Actually, if this marketing gimmick works, maybe I can pick a few items off of my menu for sale as personal grooming products. How about a Corn and Crab Bisque-scented cologne, or speckled trout after shave?

Will Burger King now get into the clothing business? Will cardboard crowns, polyester pants, and plastic name tags be the new black, or the new pink, or the new whatever is new?

For the purposes of this column, I went to the pharmacy next door to my office to see if I could purchase a bottle of Flame cologne. I wanted to give it a field test. I would spray some on, walk around my restaurant, and see if the ladies treated me differently. Unfortunately, my pharmacy only carries English Leather and Old Spice, so I’ll never know if the women of the world would have viewed me as the standard bearer of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat, or just another item on the lunch menu— hold the onions.

Mushroom-Swiss Burgers with Dijon-Horseradish Sauce

3 pounds Lean Ground Beef
1 Tbl Steak Seasoning
2 Tbl Unsalted butter
3 cups Sliced mushrooms
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Fresh ground black pepper
6 1-oz Slices Swiss Cheese
6 Hamburger Buns
1/4 cup Unsalted Butter, melted
1 1/2 cup Fresh Spinach Leaves
6 Red Onion Slices
1 Recipe Dijon Horseradish Sauce

Divide the ground beef into six equal parts and form burger patties, approximately 1-1/2” thick.

Prepare the grill: Sprinkle the surface of the burgers with the steak seasoning. Cook over direct high heat for 8-10 minutes.

While the burgers are cooking:
Heat the butter in a medium sauté pan over high heat. Place mushrooms, salt, and pepper in the hot butter and sauté mushrooms for 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain excess liquid.

While they are still on the grill, top each burger with one slice of each cheese. Divide the mushrooms evenly and place them atop the cheese. Close the lid on the grill and cook just until the cheese melts.

Brush the hamburger buns with the melted butted and toast on the grill over medium direct heat for 2-3 minutes.

Spread the Dijon mustard sauce on both sides of the bun. Place a burger on each bun and top with the fresh spinach leaves and red onions.

Yield: 6 Hamburgers

Dijon Horseradish Sauce

2 TBL Yellow mustard
1 /4 cup Prepared horseradish
3/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Honey
2 Tbl Bourbon
1 Tbl Ketchup
1 Tbl Red wine vinegar
1 Tbl Parsley, chopped
1 tsp Fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp Black pepper, freshly ground

Mix together all ingredients. For the best flavor, prepare and refrigerate the sauce a day in advance. Allow the sauce to reach room temperature before serving.

Yield: 1 1 /2 cups