Robert St. John column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 2010

St. John: Daughter’s first chocolate taste provides Christmas card photo

There are many expressions that are associated with food.

When one eats something that tastes good there is a distinct “tell” that even the most astute poker player would have trouble masking. It’s a facial expression that is impossible to hide. A perfectly seared Prime New York Strip steak– there’s a look for that. An expertly prepared soufflé– there’s a look for that. A height-of-the-season Louisiana strawberry– there’s a look for that, too.

 Conversely, when one eats something that tastes bad, the expression is instant and revealing, and about as obvious as a Jagermeister billboard.

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Some expressions are an innate automatic response. Others are time-tested and true. Sour has its own unique expression.  The pucker is a universal, instinctual, and automatic expression that belies the flavor experience– no words needed. Bite into a persimmon and instantly see the face that should be attached to the photograph beside the word “sour” in the dictionary.

Nothing is as expressive and telling as the face of a child immediately after they have had enjoyed their first taste of chocolate.

When my daughter was 18 months old, my wife and I were trying to decide what to do about a Christmas card. We didn’t feel like the formal and staged pose fit her or our family. We felt a candid shot would be the best, and have taken that route for the last 13 years. Nevertheless, we couldn’t decide on a setting.

 One Sunday afternoon, we were making brownies in the kitchen. My wife, daughter, and our friend Jessica were playing in the breakfast room. (It should be noted that my favorite part of brownies is not eating the actual brownies. I would rather lick the bowl.).

 Being first-time parents, my wife and I were very guarded about what our daughter ate. Actually, she had lived a year and a half without ever tasting chocolate. I told my wife to sit her on the butcher block and I would let her lick the bowl. After a brief, and slightly heated, discussion, she acquiesced.

 I placed the bowl in my daughter’s lap and handed her a wooden spoon, the next five minutes were some of the most memorable in my parenting career. She was elated. The spoon was loaded with brownie batter and, within a matter of seconds; it was all over her face. Jessica took a candid photograph, and the best Christmas card in the history of Christmas cards was complete.

 If you ever get the chance to see the expression on a child’s face the first time they taste chocolate, don’t miss it. The look is one of pure, unadulterated joy. It is innocence, wonder, exhilaration, and revelation all rolled up into the face of a chubby-cheeked toddler in a red onesie.

 There are a lot of “firsts” in life, some are memorable, and some are not. I remember my first bike, my first kiss, and the first time I earned a paycheck, but I can’t remember my first football game. One thing is for certain, I remember sitting next to my grandfather at Baricev’s restaurant in Biloxi the first time I ate a raw oyster. I remember sitting with my wife in Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago the first time I ever ate foie gras. I remember my first Chilton County, Alabama peach, my first Kobe steak, my first ceviche, and my first slice of Key Lime pie.

 All of those memories are great, but none compare to seeing the joy on my daughter’s face the first time she tasted chocolate.

(Robert St. John is a restaurateur, author and self-described “world-class eater.” His seventh book is “Dispatches from My South. Contact him at