Multi-layered meanings: What would your forever meal be?

By ROBERT ST. JOHN,

There is a game I play with a few of my foodie friends. It’s based on the question: “If you could only eat one food item for the rest of your life, what would it be?” It’s a harder question to answer than one might think. I love steak, but would I want to eat steak three times a day forever? No.

Crabmeat and shrimp are my favorite ingredients, but neither of those work for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I like almost all vegetables, but is there one that outshines all others to the extent that I could live off of it forever? Not this guy. Then one needs to look at the nutritional benefits. This is where it really gets complicated. What item is going to offer enough protein to lead a healthy existence? That is where my answer always loses validity.

Bacon is awesome, but is it served at supper, too? Eggs are great in the morning, and I love doing the breakfast-for-supper thing every once in a while. But I would get tired of eggs real quick. I look for an item that can be served in the morning, afternoon, and evening. What food stuff makes an appearance at every meal period? 

The answer is bread.

If there were one food item that I was forced to live on for the entirety of my existence from here until the day they chuck me in the clay, it’s bread. Period. End of story. Bread. OK, so there’s not a lot of protein in bread, but I would have to just drink protein shakes and keep up that way.

Bread is served at every meal period. Toast, muffins, biscuits, or pastries in the morning. We eat sandwiches at lunch, and rolls for dinner. James Beard said, “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods.” He nailed it. Bread is the answer for me.

But bread is a broad category. It’s like answering the game question with “Fruit” or Vegetables.” There are a lot of fruits and vegetables that would fall into that category. The answer to the game query must be more specific.

So, what type of bread could I eat all day, every day, for the rest of my life? Well, I am a fan of toast. I’ve been eating it for 58 years, and toast with honey or blackberry jam is my go-to late-night snack. But toast would not be the answer. I love a warm loaf of French bread, and I could eat that three times a day if I was forced, but that would still be a fallback choice. Biscuits are nice, but not nice enough to keep me happy all day, every day, for the rest of my life.

For me, the answer is easy— croissants. Yes, that buttery, multi-layered, light, crescent-shaped piece of heaven— that is slightly flakey on the exterior and soft and airy on the inside— is something I truly think I could eat for the rest of my life. There aren’t too many culinary pleasures that please me as much as a freshly baked warm croissant.

That being said, most grocery store croissants, and all mass-made croissants, are no different than a loaf of Wonder bread. I could not eat crappy croissants for the rest of my life. Just because a piece of bread has been shaped into a crescent and has been baked to look like a croissant, doesn’t make it a croissant. Many people who think they have eaten croissants— whether as a component in a fast food sandwich or in the deli section of a grocery store— have never had anything close to the real thing. Seriously, not even close. I am talking about a three-time laminated, multi-layer, butter laden croissant baked in a real-deal bakery by someone who knows their way around a sheeter.

Years ago, I didn’t appreciate the beauty and simplicity of a croissant. I would spread butter and then jam on it. These days I still might spread a little jam on a croissant on occasion, but I would never, ever apply more butter to an already butter-laden pastry. I was young and foolish. My appreciation for croissants first came from my friend Martha Foose at her long-gone Mockingbird Bakery in Greenwood.

Twelve years ago, a French pastry chef opened a bakery across the street from my office and I ate a croissant there almost every morning. A few years after he opened, I started spending a lot of time in Europe and ate croissants all over the continent, including ground zero for croissants— France. I was happy to learn that the croissants I was eating across the street from my office were every bit as good as the croissants in Paris.

Sadly, the French pastry chef closed his bakery several years ago, and tragically passed away a year later.

When I am in New Orleans, I have breakfast almost every morning at La Boulangerie Bakery on Magazine Street. The croissants made there are, most certainly, as good as any I have eaten in France, and even better than some I have eaten overseas. They also make a ham and cheese croissant that my son would fight over. They go fast. As a matter of fact, yesterday I was in line in front of the pastry case and there were four ham and cheese croissants left at 9:30. I was two people from the register, and they were gone by the time it was my turn to order.

To my taste, croissants are best when eaten slightly warmed. But croissants should never, ever, ever be microwaved. A low-heat oven does the trick in bringing a croissant to just the right temperature.

So there it is— a croissant is the one food item I love enough to eat every day for the rest of my life. In the Bible it is written that “Man cannot live by bread alone.” That’s probably true. And I know there is a multi-layered meaning in that scripture. But, if taken at face value, and if the bread is a croissant, I think I could give it a shot.

If you could only eat one food item for the rest of your life, what would it be?

St. John is a restaurateur, chef, columnist, and author, who has written a weekly syndicated newspaper column for more than 20 years. Look for him each week in The PineBelt NEWS.