By Susan Marquez
Any good cook will tell you that the proper seasonings make the dish. When the seasonings are right, the food is always good. Restauranteur Robert St. John has perfected the seasonings used in his restaurants. For 33 years, he’s overseen the recipes that come out of the kitchens in his Hattiesburg, Mississippi, restaurants that include Crescent City Grill, Mahogany Bar, Branch, Tabella, Ed’s Burger Joint, The Midtowner and El Rayo Tex-Mex.
“I was kind of thrown into the kitchen,” he laughs. “On the opening night of my first restaurant, The Purple Parrot, I had to fire my chef. He had been drinking beer in the kitchen all day and was drunk as could be. I ended up cooking because there was no one else to do it. During that first year, I developed the seasoning mixes for the restaurant, and we still use the exact recipes in all our restaurants today. That includes our creole seasoning as well as seasonings for steak, poultry and vegetables.”
By popular demand, the seasonings are available for home cooks to purchase. They are available online and in the Crescent City Grill and El Rayo in Hattiesburg, as well as in several retail outlets around the state. The seasoning mixes come packaged in five-ounce tins that look great in any kitchen. The creole seasoning is ideal for flavoring soups, salads, flours and gravies as well as meat of any kind, including seafood. The steak seasoning is great for steak, hamburger and all cuts of beef. The poultry seasoning can be used on chicken cooked any way from grilled, baked broiled or roasted. It’s also excellent for duck or turkey. And the veggie seasoning can be used on all vegetables, whether grilled, baked, broiled or roasted. It can even take the place of good ol’ salt and pepper.
St. John has developed other seasoning mixes that will roll out this fall. There will be a Tex-Mex mix inspired by his travels while researching to develop his latest restaurant, El Rayo Tex-Mex. “We always did a southwestern seasoning when we did features at the other restaurants,” he says. “That’s now what we use to season all of the proteins at El Rayo.” St. John is also reintroducing a barbecue rub that was developed in the mid-1990s.
In the past, St. John has marketed his Bloody Mary mix, margarita mix, rimming salts and hot chocolate mix. “We are ramping that back up again,” he says. The signature hot chocolate mix is sold in a 13-ounce package. The label claims that the hot chocolate mix is “really, really rich.” Another popular item that has been sold in the past is St. John’s grandmother’s pancake mix. “That was really popular, and it made some mighty fine pancakes. We may look at putting that out again.”
The seasonings have been out of stock over the summer due to supply issues. “We are talking with a company in Pearl to produce the product,” says St. John. “We like to support businesses in Mississippi, and we want what we offer to be made in Mississippi.” The seasonings should be back in production by the end of September, just in time for the holidays.
For more information, visit www.robertstjohn.com.