robert st. john

My son eats too fast. He likely acquired that habit from his old man. I don’t know from whom I inherited my speed eating. It’s nothing I’m proud of, and in social settings I try my best to slow down. Though my son has one eating speed— full fork ahead.

He has been that way since we weened him off of the bottle. It took two people to keep him fed in a high chair. Seriously, his mother and I developed what we called “the two-spoon method,” to keep him from screaming during meals. One person couldn’t shovel the pureed carrots into his mouth fast enough. If there was too much time between bites, he would scream. And, at that point in his life, the only thing he could do better than eat fast and mess up a pair of diapers was to scream. The kid had some pipes.

Here’s a rundown of the two-spoon method: His mother and I would get on either side of the high chair, baby food in one hand, baby spoon in the other and prepare for the feeding frenzy. Once the devouring commenced, it was a full speed ahead free-for-all. His head was on a swivel, switching from side to side, as she and I would shovel it in as fast as we could. While she was feeding on her side, I was quickly loading the spoon on the other side. While I was cramming a food-filled spoon in his mouth on my side, she was quickly reloading her spoon on the other side. If we slowed down, the screaming would commence.

OK, so maybe his mother and I are both responsible for the speed at which he currently eats.

His sister eats daintily. Always has. We took her to Commander’s Palace at six-months old. She was perfectly behaved, not a peep, and not a speck of food on the floor. Her face somehow always stayed clean, even when eating baby food. For his first two years, the boy’s face stayed orange in the area around his mouth and nose because the daily face bath of pureed carrots temporarily stained his skin. At the end of every feeding event (and that is the only way to describe the process) food was up his nostrils, in his hair, ears, eyebrows, cheeks, and on all surfaces within a 10-foot radius of the high chair.

There are certain foods that just can’t be eaten daintily. Popcorn is one of them. Actually, it can be eaten daintily, I just don’t have the ability to eat it daintily. I go to the movie theatre a lot, and I almost always get popcorn. I am a stickler for being in my seat before the previews of coming attractions start. Every time I sit down with my bag of popcorn, I tell myself, “I’m going to make this bag of popcorn last through the entire feature and eat one kernel at a time.” At first, I always pop one kernel in my mouth. That usually works for the second bite, too, and maybe even the third. Eventually, I pop in two kernels, and then three, and then four per bite, until I am finally grabbing handfuls of popcorn and shoving them down my throat. It happens every time. No matter how hard I try to be a one-kernel popcorn eater, it just can’t be done. And by the time the announcement about “no cell phone usage” comes on, I’m at the bottom of the bag.

French fries are like popcorn to me. I always start off picking up one fry and dipping it into the ketchup. That happens only once. With fries, it’s a much quicker path to the cramming stage. Within minutes I am seeing how many fries I can gather into one handful to stuff into my mouth in one bite.

My go-tos for movie candy are Milk Duds or Hot Tamales. If I order popcorn, I usually order Milk Duds, too. If I’m not ordering popcorn, I get Hot Tamale candies. No matter which one I order, the end result is the same. I start with one Hot Tamale and tell myself, “I am going to let this melt in my mouth and make this whole enormous movie-sized jumbo box last during the entire movie. Then, about halfway through the opening credits, I’m turning the box up and eating the last six candies all at once.

Milk Duds are a little different. They are self-portioning candies. There is no way to eat more than two Milk Duds at a time. They’re way too chewy and sticky to cram more than a couple in your mouth at once. I do, however, like to eat a couple of Milk Duds and then put some popcorn in my mouth and eat them together. I am a big fan of salty and sweet, and that is salty-sweet heaven. Though, as it always is with popcorn, the first time I pop a few kernels in my mouth to chew alongside the Milk Duds, but after a couple of bites, I’m cramming in kernels by the handful.

Movie manners dictate that there is no talking during the feature presentation, and that’s a good thing, because my mouth is always full of movie junk food. And it’s a good thing that movie theaters are dark, otherwise people would see what a pig I am when cramming concession stand contraband into my mouth. It’s impossible to talk while eating Milk Duds, anyway.

These days, my son is a health nut and can quote the number of grams of protein or carbs in most everything he eats. He eats better, but he still eats fast. 


Scalloped Potatoes

4 large Idaho potatoes, peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch thick discs

1 1/2 tsp Salt

1 tsp Black pepper

2 cups Heavy cream

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

2 Tbl Parsley, fresh chopped

1 1/2 cups Sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place sliced potatoes in a medium-sized saucepot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let potatoes sit in water five minutes. Drain thoroughly.

Combine cream, parmesan and parsley. Separately, combine the salt and pepper. Lightly grease a two-quart Pyrex baking dish. Arrange one layer of potatoes. Sprinkle with 1 /3 of the salt and pepper mixture, then ladle 1 /3 of the cream mixture over potatoes. Finally, sprinkle 1 /3 of the grated cheddar. Repeat process two more times, but leave cheddar off the final layer.

Bake 35 minutes. Remove and top with the remaining cheddar. Return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove and serve. 

Yield: eight servings.

ROBERT ST. JOHN  is a father, husband, restauranteur, chef, author, columnist, world-class eater.



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