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

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