Frank Stitt, III
Frank Stitt has a fondness for humble southern ingredients. And it comes from his own roots in rural Alabama. “I feel a real spiritual connection to the food and 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.
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 the now legendary Chez Panisse. Alice 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), Café Bottega (1990), and Chez Fonfon (2000)—all in Birmingham.
Chef Stitt and Highlands Bar and Grill have been the recipient of numerous James Beard Foundation accolades. Highlands Bar and Grill has been a finalist for James Beard Awards' Outstanding Restaurant for eight consecutive years. And as owner and chef of Highlands, Stitt was named a 2011 James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America Inductee. Highlands was also nominated by the James Beard Foundation for Most Outstanding Restaurant in both 2009 and 2010. Stitt received the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2001, and was nominated in 2008 and 2009 for Outstanding Chef. He was a semifinalist for Outstanding Chef 2010 and 2011.
Chef Stitt was inducted to commemorate his appearance on the magazine's first Best New Restaurants List and to celebrate the many remarkable accomplishments he has made since Highlands Bar and Grill opened.
For about three decades, Esquire has published an annual list of the Best New Restaurants in America, and Highlands Bar and Grill appeared on their first list in November 1984.
The festivities took place at Boulud Sud, Daniel Boulud's dazzling new place near Lincoln Center. All of this year's honorees -- chefs from all twenty Best New Restaurants -- attended and it was an inspiring evening.
Previous chefs who've been inducted into Esquire's Restaurant Hall of Fame include: Danny Meyer, Alfred Portale, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.
"To be included in Esquire's Best New Restaurant list in 1984 brought the first national attention to Highlands and paved the way for America to take notice of our cooking and dining experience," Stitt says. "To now be inducted -- along with Tom Colicchio, a culinary superstar and hero -- into the 2011 Hall of Fame, is one of the great honors of a lifetime. Esquire does America a great service for celebrating our diverse restaurants so here's a huge Southern thank you to John Mariani and Ryan D'Agostino. To be included with all of this year's best new restaurants along with some of the most respected chefs is just phenomenal."
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.
In 2006 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance. 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.
View Chef's Secrets Recipe & Techniques: Frank Stitt's Sweet Potato Ravioli with Sage Butter