Robert St. John Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Food columnist compiling list of food quirks and strange combinations

Everyone has food quirks. We all prefer certain foods over others. There are plenty of foods that I eat that some folks would never touch, and vice versa.

My daughter has a very versatile palate. She’ll try anything once. My son- though not a soldier in the adolescent chicken-tender army- would live on yogurt and bananas, alone. Both children eat more grown-up cereals than their father. My wife prefers a steady diet of coffee and cheese.

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In an essay I wrote five years ago entitled “My South,” there is a line that reads: “In My South people put peanuts in bottles of Coca Cola and hot sauce on almost everything.”

When I speak to a group or association, I usually end the speech by reading the My South piece. The peanuts/Coca Cola line always generates chuckles and sighs. People seem to always remember dropping nuts into a soft drink, or they remember someone who did.

I never have put peanuts in Coke, but I had school friends with whom I sat in the lunchroom who did it every day.

Peanuts and Coke seem like a strange pairing. If I had to name the strangest food quirk that I possess, it would be my affinity for using applesauce as a dip for potato chips. The combination of the salty and sweet holds great appeal to me.

I know people who dump Milk Duds into their popcorn at the theatre. Some food quirks are easy to understand: mustard on French fries, cornbread into buttermilk, and French dressing on pizza. Others are strange but seem palatable: Potato chips on sandwiches. And some are just downright strange: Pickles and peanut butter.

My children dip their fries into blue cheese dressing. I am not a fan of blue cheese dressing, but I can understand the pairing.

Some people’s food quirks go to the extreme, and to the point where they eat hardly anything. I have one friend, I will call him The Web Guru, who eats almost nothing, and when I say almost nothing, I’m not talking about quantity, I’m talking about variety.

The first 10 years I knew him, he ate mostly fried chicken tenders. As he grew older, he stepped away from fried food and limited his diet even more.

On a business trip to San Francisco earlier in the year, I took the Web Guy to The French Laundry in Yountville, California. The French Laundry is widely considered the best restaurant in the country. The things Thomas Keller does with food are fanciful to the point of mind-boggling. Lawrence Nadeau the maitre’d was expediting a 12-course meal filled with foie gras terrines, caviar, and the like. The Web Guru passed on every course.

This was good and bad. Bad, in that I was responsible for bringing him there and putting him in a situation where he had to decline Keller’s world-class food. Good, in that I got to eat the courses he was unable to eat (which amounted to every course except the bread course).

In the end, I paid $240.00 plus tax and tip so that my friend could eat a basket of bread. However, it is notable that once the bread basket arrived, The Web Guru covered the basket with both arms and pulled it in tight to his chest, hoarding the basket of freshly baked treats for himself.

The Web Guru and I were eating lunch last week. He ordered a sandwich with turkey and bread and a bag of potato chips. The sandwich was dry- no mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, pickle. Nothing. As we sat visiting I watched him place the potato chips- one by one- onto his turkey sandwich. There is hope, yet.

I am compiling a list of food quirks and strange combinations. If you, or anyone you know, eats strange food combinations send me an e-mail detailing the quirk. I will publish the strangest combinations and quirks in a November column.

(For this week’s recipe, Baked Cheese Treats, go to the blog on

Robert St.John is an author, chef, restaurateur, and world-class eater. He is the author of five books and the upcoming “Southern Seasons.” He can be reached at )