Bottega Restaurant

Chef - Bottega Restaurant

Frank Stitt, III

Frank Stitt’s fondness for humble Southern ingredients comes from his roots in rural Cullman, Alabama, where he developed an early connection to food, to the land, and to farming. His culinary journey began to take shape when he moved to San Francisco, where he honed his kitchen skills at various restaurants, including the now legendary Chez Panisse. In 1977, he moved to the South of France to work for Richard Olney, who was compiling a multi-volume Time–Life series on cooking at the time. Frank eventually made his way back to the American South and returned to the foods and traditions of his childhood. Those roots, combined with his culinary experiences and adventurous spirit, led him to create a singular, deeply rich, and passionate approach to food. Highly committed to the ideals of humane animal husbandry and sustainable agriculture, Frank was among the first Alabama chefs and restaurateurs to champion these practices. In 2001, he received the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southeast, and in 2008, he was nominated for Outstanding Chef. Frank also received the Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2006, and he was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2009, the most distinguished award given to an Alabamian. Two years later, Esquire magazine inducted him into their Restaurant Hall of Fame, and he was also named to the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America”.

 “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), CafĂ© 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 10 consecutive years before winning the award for Outstanding Restaurant in 2018. And as owner and chef of Highlands, Stitt was named a 2011 James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America Inductee. 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. Highlands Bar and Grill was a finalist (one of five restaurants) for James Beard Foundation Awards' Outstanding Restaurant every year for ten consecutive years, from 2009-2018. In 2018 Highlands Bar and Grill was named James Beard Foundation Awards Outstanding Restaurant! Also in 2018 Pastry Chef, Dolester Miles was named James Beard Foundation Awards Outstanding Pastry Chef, after having been a finalist and semi finalist for years. Most recently Bottega was named a Semifinalist for James Beard Award Outstanding Hospitality 2023. 

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 TableRecipe 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