When pancreatitis hits, it's like a phantom freight train, hard and with no warning. Trust me on this. I was a 44-year-old, pork-eating, whiskey-swilling chef in Oxford, Mississippi. I thought I was indestructible, but that belief came crashing down last summer, when I spent three weeks in a hospital bed, near death, as penance for my poor lifestyle.
As much as I knew about food, it turns out I didn't know very much about nutrition. I was a grab-and-eat survivalist in the kitchens of my three restaurants, snatching anything that was close at hand: a big piece of roast chicken skin, a slice or two of bacon.
John's wife, Bess. Photo © Peter Frank Edwards.
In the hospital, I started dreaming about fried chicken and fruit crisps and crumbles, which were now completely off limits. My daily intake of fat would have to be roughly equivalent to a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup (not that I could have eaten one, because sugar was almost entirely forbidden). I knew that my restaurant dishes would probably end up looking a little different, too. I was OK with the changes—my customers had been asking for healthier food, anyway—but I wanted to do it in a way that wasn't too predictable and stayed true to my family's deep-South roots.