Alabama Chanin’s slow design ideals are deeply rooted in and inspired by the Slow Food Movement, whose tenets call for good, clean, and fair food for all. Local, organically sourced food echoes through the pages of the Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook by husband-and-wife team (and friends) Chris and Idie Hastings. In continuation of our Factory Café Chef Series, the café will feature recipes inspired by Chef Chris Hastings during the month of June. Additionally, we are proud to host Chris for our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner Series on Thursday, June 12. He will also hold a brief discussion and sign copies of his book after the farm-to-table meal. A portion of ticket and book sales from the evening will benefit the Alabama Gulf Seafood organization.
Chris graduated from the Johnson & Wales Culinary School in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1984. After graduating, he began working for Frank Stitt, as Chef D’Cuisine of the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. In the introduction to his cookbook, Chris describes how he and his wife later moved to California “with a trailer in tow, in 1989 journeyed three thousand miles from Birmingham, Alabama, to San Francisco—a hotbed of great food in America—in just two days.” In California, he helped Bradley Ogden launch the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, California, and witnessed the rise of the farm-to-table movement first hand.
Beckoned by the South, the Hastings returned to Birmingham in 1995 and opened the Hot and Hot Fish Club restaurant. Located in the historic Highland Park neighborhood, it was one of the first farm-to-table restaurants east of the Mississippi. In 1998, Hot and Hot Fish Club was recognized with the Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence, and in 2012 Chris was honored with the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South.
“Eating foods close to their source, prepared in a fashion that allows their pure, unadulterated flavors to shine, Is the key to a meal’s success. Developing close relationships with local farmers and purveyors is the first and most important step in great cooking,” Chris says.
Alabama, its farmers, and artisans inspire Chris and his team, and this is evident at Hot and Hot Fish Club (and throughout the cookbook). The book is based upon eating seasonably, and each chapter includes family stories, traditions, and the memories each season possesses for the Hastings. The glimpse offered into the Hastings’ lives in this book is relatable and brings each recipe to life, attaching to each a deeper meaning and importance.
In the cookbook—and in life—Chris celebrates family. He especially focuses on the importance of fathers, including accounts of traditional crabbing trips to Pawley’s Island in South Carolina he took as a boy with his father—a tradition that he continues with his sons, Zeb and Vincent . Highlighting Chris (and his recipes) in the café during June is quite appropriate, since Father’s Day is just around the corner. Chris describes his own father as being a “man of a creative bent—architect, artist, sculptor, and master pumpkin carver.” Chris writes that his father’s creative spirit has inspired an artistic streak within his relationship with his own children.
“The practice of preparing and consuming good food, and the manifold joys and solaces that practice provides, is what this marvel of a cookbook is about,” Chris writes. “What makes it as richly satisfying a creation as a perfect béchamel sauce is that the making and eating of food is not only magical to the Hastings but sacramental: the outward and visible sign of the graces that attend celebrations with friends and family; paying attention and due respect to the places and seasons in our lives; taking pains.”
Images courtesy of Chris and Idie Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club, and Alabama Gulf Seafood.