By Leslie Criss
If you are a reader of chef/restaurateur Robert St. John’s column, it will come as no surprise that he has a new book, just out in October. It’s his third collaboration with his best friend, Mississippi watercolorist extraordinaire Wyatt Waters.
And the book is a result of the time the two spent last year in Italy – Waters painting and St. John eating.
If you are not a reader of St. John’s column, it’s not too late. It is published each Sunday in the Daily Journal’s Living section.
His columns for a good portion of 2012, chronicled his journey – along with his wife and two kids – abroad.
And as they’d planned beforehand, Waters would join them in Italy, where they spent 70 days painting, cooking, eating, talking with the locals – all activities which would eventually become a beautiful coffeetable book – “An Italian Palate” – filled with Waters’ paintings and recipes St. John tested and eventually chose for inclusion.
“This is my favorite book I’ve done,” St. John said. “We did a lot of recipe testing, but the lasagna was the most tested ever. Everyone who buys this book is going to cook this lasagna.
“More than just being a coffee table book, I hope people will use the book in the kitchen. It’s what any chef wants to see, a cookbook with dog-eared and stained pages.”
Good place to paint
Waters said he’s never really had a yearning to travel, “but of all the places, Italy’s the place I’ve wanted to paint.
“My most favorite painter and greatest artistic influence, John Singer Sargent, did his best work in Italy.”
“Every day I could paint, I did paint,” he said. “Sometimes I painted at night.”
The days he did not paint were few, and were days spent traveling in search of sites to include in his work.
There were a few ways Waters chose the subjects for his paintings.
“If we went to Pisa, then I painted the Leaning Tower, which is iconic to the area,” he said. “Then again, I painted other things from suggestions from folks along the way.
“A lot of the paintings were done after I’d spent time just walking and seeing what happened.”
On page 139, along with a recipe for Italian Cream Filling, is a watercolor of a scooter – “I didn’t really think about painting a Vespa until I saw them all over the place.”
As for his friend’s part of the project, Waters is appreciative of St. John’s culinary leanings.
“You know, one word often associated with artist is starving,” he said. “But I ate like a king. You find the best pizza in the world over there.”
Waters and St. John have not been friends since childhood, but the moment they met, they clicked – creatively and personally.
“I approached Wyatt with the idea of a coffeetable cookbook,” St. John said. “We hit it off instantly and have been best friends since. Robert and I see the South the same way.”
That was back in early 2000 when the two entered into their first collaboration, “A Southern Palate.”
For the new book, the two – with St. John’s family – covered Italy from the Southern-most tip of Sicily to the Alps.
“It was a blast hanging out with my best friend,” St. John said. “It was the trip of a lifetime.”
“An Italian Palate” includes photographs – “This is the first book with photographs. You’ll see Wyatt painting on location and me, eating.” And nearly half of Waters’ 128 paintings can be found in the book.
There are also parts of St. John’s travel journal throughout the book.
And more than 100 tried and true authentic Italian recipes for everything from pizza to poached pears and so much in between.