Robert St. John Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Robert St. John

St. John: Lifelong lust for oysters brings affair of culinary infidelity

I have been cheating on my wife.

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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.”

 (Robert St.John is an author, chef, restaurateur, and world-class eater. He is the author of seven books including the newly released New South Grilling. He can be reached at

This week’s recipe for Fried Oyster Salad is available on the Web site.)