Chefs of Distinction / Chronological

Frank Stitt, III

Stitt’s culinary journey took him from Cullman, Alabama to San Francisco where, as a philosophy student, he began to find himself piling high the cookbooks and leaving Plato and Kierkegaard behind. After learning and honing his kitchen skills in various Bay Area restaurants, he was finally allowed into the kitchen of Alice Waters at the now legendary Chez Panisse. Alice Waters then introduced him to Richard Olney, who at the time was working on the Good Cook series for Time-Life Books and needed an assistant. Stitt was able to work with Jeremiah Tower, Stephen Spurrier and Simca Beck, eventually traveling throughout the French countryside. Frank worked in vineyards in Provence and Burgundy, then returned home to the foods and traditions that continue to be so much a part of his present day vision. He remains highly committed to the ideals of sustainable agriculture and humane animal husbandry.

“Most modern cooks don’t have a close connection to the land or small family farming,” Stitt says. “When I grew up in Cullman, it was the leading agricultural county in Alabama, and there was a lot of pride in being a small family farmer.” Today, Stitt is involved with Slow Food and is a standing board member with Jones Valley Urban Farm and Pepper Place Farmer’s Market both in Birmingham. Recognizing his own responsibility to promote sustainable agriculture, Stitt supports produce from area farmer’s markets for his own restaurants as much as possible.

The flagship, Highlands Bar and Grill, opened in 1982 and combines humble southern ingredients such as stone ground grits and country ham meet French sauces and braises, creating superb flavors and elegant balance. Highlands was an immediate success, and soon after, he opened Bottega (1988), CafÈ Bottega (1990), and Chez Fonfon (2000) all in Birmingham.

2004 marked the release of Stitt’s first cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table, Recipe and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill (Artisan). The Southeastern Booksellers Association named Southern Table best cookbook of 2005, and it is now in its fifth printing. Stitt’s second cookbook, Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair With Italian Food (Artisan), was released nationally in January 2009. Bottega Favorita showcases Stitt’s love of the Mediterranean and Italy.

Most recently Highlands Bar and Grill was nominated by the James Beard Foundation for the 2009 Most Outstanding Restaurant. Stitt received the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2001, and was nominated in 2008 for Outstanding Chef. In 2006 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance and was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2009. He has appeared on the “Martha Stewart Show”, PBS’s “Chefs A’Field”, and the CBS “Early Show”. His restaurants have been featured in The New York Times, Gourmet, Food Arts, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, and Newsweek.

Stitt lives in Birmingham with his wife and business partner, Pardis.

Frank Stitt’s fondness for humble southern ingredients comes from his own roots in rural Alabama. “I feel a real spiritual connection to the food and to the land because of my southern agrarian upbringing.” As a child, Stitt was equally at home experiencing some of the great restaurants of New York and New Orleans while traveling with his family, as he was picking the first tender shoots of asparagus with his Grandmother White in early spring.


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