Last week, we introduced pitmaster Rodney Scott and the care and expertise he executes in the “whole hog” process. His prowess for pork and bar-b-que balances quite nicely with Frank Stitt’s skillful translation of Southern ingredients. (I’ve witnessed it first-hand at an SFA Symposium.) Though their kitchens may look different from one another, both Rodney Scott and Frank Stitt understand the importance of local and sustainable ingredients. Both men have practiced the principle as a way of life—not as a trend.
As for Frank, we have professed our love for the man, his wife Pardis, and his work many times. Frank grew up near Florence, in Cullman, Alabama, but went away for college—eventually studying philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley and learning from Alice Waters in the kitchen of the legendary Chez Panisse. It was Waters who introduced Frank to food writer Richard Olney, who was in need of an assistant. From San Francisco, he and Olney traveled extensively, landing in the French countryside. Stitt spent time learning about regional French cuisine, harvesting grapes in the south of France, even meeting food legends like Julia Child and Simone Beck.
Eventually, Frank returned to the states with the idea to open his own restaurant in Alabama—bringing with him ideas and techniques he’d learned on his travels. His idea was to incorporate his love of French cooking techniques with southern ingredients. Though Birmingham was not yet a well-known food center, he felt that it had potential to become one. Frank first opened Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1982. He followed up with Bottega in 1988, Bottega Café in 1990, and Chez Fonfon in 2000.
It was at Bottega that Stitt met Pardis, who was managing the dining room. Pardis Stitt co-owns and manages front-of-the-house operations for all four restaurants and Frank credits her eye for detail as an essential component of their business and their philosophy of sourcing products thoughtfully and locally.
In 2004, Stitt released his first cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill. His second cookbook, Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair With Italian Food was released in 2009. Both remain frequently used staples in the Alabama Chanin library. In 2013, Highlands Bar and Grill was nominated (for the 5th consecutive year) by the James Beard Foundation for the Outstanding Restaurant Award. Stitt received the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2001, and was nominated in 2008 for Outstanding Chef. Chef Stitt received the Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2006.
Since the beginning of his cooking career, Stitt has been a fervent believer in sustainability and the use of local produce. His grandparents were farmers, and he spent his childhood planting, harvesting, and eating homegrown vegetables. This personal experience, combined with the philosophies of teachers like Alice Waters, cemented his belief that it was possible, beneficial, and important to promote local and sustainable agriculture. He uses produce from area farmers at each of his restaurants, whenever possible. Today, Frank and Pardis are outspoken proponents of the Slow Food movement and Frank is a standing board member of the Jones Valley Teaching Farm. Their influence in the Slow Food community extends beyond the community and the region, to chefs nationwide.
We cannot exaggerate our excitement at seeing what these two food legends will create when they join forces. The Friends of the Café Dinner featuring Frank Stitt + Rodney Scott, and benefitting the Southern Foodways Alliance, will be held at the Factory Café on March 24, beginning at 6:30pm. This event sold out in record time, and we look forward to the special evening. If you missed out, we have a few more dinners in our 2016 line-up and suggest reserving your spot in advance: May 21st Spring Harvest Dinner and October 8th Friends of the Café Dinner with Sean Brock.
P.S.: Back in 2005, Robert Rausch photographed Frank (and his crew) as part of The Kitchen Project: People We Love with the Recipes They Love. The photo at top is one of our favorites of Frank—wearing one of our shirts.