Last week, we hosted our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner, featuring chef Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club. Chris and his team came to The Factory for an evening of superb food, lively conversation, and support for the Alabama Gulf Seafood organization.
Guests arrived and were greeted, then served a selection of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
One of the most beloved dishes of the evening was the Country Ham, Strawberry, and Almond on a Cheese Biscuit. (It was hard to keep the trays of delicious bites filled.)
It was great to see everyone sitting and talking together; friendships were forged, wine was poured and the evening proved to be an intimate gathering of like-minded souls. Chris, his sous chef Austin, and our kitchen team (Arron, Zach, and Wade) plated the Hot and Hot Tomato Salad and Bayou La Batre Shrimp first course at the bar, as Chris wanted to “turn the kitchen out” for our guests experience. In a loving tale of his childhood, Chris explained that this popular recipe was inspired by the homemade succotash that is so common in our community. The difference is that traditional succotash is served piping hot in the middle of summer, and this updated recipe highlights the freshness of sweet summer tomatoes, peas, beans, and a homemade aioli.
The Wine Seller highlighted each of the beautiful wines that were paired with each course, including the Gruet Demi Sec, a light sparkling wine that is made in New Mexico.
Meanwhile, Chris and team presented the final course, the “Peach Shortcake.” A friend of the café commented that it was “the best dessert he had ever eaten.” (Cards and calls confirm that this exquisite dessert was beloved by all.)
Thank you to Chris and the entire Hot and Hot team for making our inaugural event a most memorable evening. All of us at Alabama Chanin are proud to call Chris friend and collaborator; we love the synergies of food to fashion that are found in our ongoing conversations.
In continuing the conversation, we asked Chris a few questions about his philosophies on good, slow food.
AC: At Alabama Chanin, our work, designs, and philosophies are based around Slow Design, which stemmed from the Slow Food Movement. Can you elaborate on your philosophies on slow food?
CH: Since day one the cornerstone of our philosophy has been tied to the Slow Food Movement. Our understanding of food and our vision for the restaurant pre-dates the Slow Food movement. The idea of living and cooking in a place, reflecting seasons and moments, and the availability is just who we are and have always been. I learned it as a child in my home, and my understanding of how nature works through my outdoor activities and has always made sense to me.
AC: Is there a certain chef or organization who inspires you? How does that inspiration factor into your work?
CH: A few of the chefs I have drawn inspiration from over the years were the earliest champions of the American food scene. Chefs like Bradley Ogden, Alice Waters, and Jeremiah Tower. They seemed to know where they stood, where they were cooking, and reflected the unique experience through food that we emulate today.
AC: What do you consider the ultimate comfort food (and have you mastered cooking it)?
CH: My father-in-laws’ Oxtail Soup. And, yes, I have mastered cooking it.
AC: How has your relationship with the SFA and Alabama Gulf Seafood affected the way you run your business?
CH: Both of those organizations are committed to preservation of Southern Foodways, whether that be our seafood community in Alabama or, more broadly, all southern foodways around the South. As members of these organizations, we make it a priority to share the stories with our guests each night of men and women in and around the South who have been important to Southern Foodways, both in the past and present. We put a premium on storytelling and sharing of our knowledge with our guests each night at the Hot and Hot Fish Club.
AC: How was your unique sense of community developed through the years? What role does community play within your work?
CH: As a small business in Birmingham, Alabama (that is now 19 years old), we have we been broadly supported by our community. From day one, we have made it our point to be active in support of others in our community. Any good business understands that the more you can get involved in your community and give back just enriches your life and business. To whom much is given, much is expected.
AC: You’ve triumphed on Iron Chef and were honored with the James Beard Best Chef: South award in 2012; what do you hope to master next?
CH: A restaurant that depends solely on wood for all cooking. I want to master an intimate relationship with wood.
AC: Why Alabama?
CH: Since I arrived here in the mid-1980s, I have always been drawn to Birmingham. I am not sure if it’s because it reminded me of Charlotte, where I spent time as a young man. Birmingham is a small southern town where so many people know each other, and it holds a strong sense of community. It is a beautiful place that has seemed comfortable to me from the beginning.
AC: At the end of the day, what makes you feel most fulfilled?
CH: My family.
Purchase your own copy of the Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook here.
Thank you to Chris and Idie, Alabama Gulf Seafood, and everyone else who made our inaugural “Friends of the Café” Dinner a success.