The Horst Schulze Award For Excellence In Hospitality

Hospitality Gala Honoree Chef Frank Stitt

Chef Frank Stitt

Frank Stitt’s fondness for humble Southern ingredients comes directly from his roots in rural Alabama. He grew up in Cullman, a leading agricultural county in north Alabama, where there was a great deal of pride in being a small family farmer. Stitt, from an early age, developed a spiritual connection to food, to the land and to farming. But there was another side to his childhood: Stitt's father, like his before him, was the county doctor, and his love of travel exposed young Frank to cosmopolitan cities and leading restaurants. In fact, he was equally at home experiencing some of the great restaurants of New York and New Orleans, as he was picking the first tender shoots of asparagus with his Grandmother White in her beloved garden.

Stitt's culinary journey began to take shape when he moved to San Francisco, and as a philosophy student, noticed that beloved cookbooks were taking precedence over the works of Plato and Kierkegaard. He honed his kitchen skills at various Bay Area restaurants, including the kitchen of Alice Waters at her now legendary restaurant, Chez Panisse. Waters introduced him to Richard Olney, who at the time was working on the Good Cook series for Time-Life Books and needed an assistant. His professional path further evolved as he worked alongside Jeremiah Tower, Stephen Spurrier and Simca Beck. Eventually, travels throughout the French countryside led to work in vineyards in both Provence and Burgundy. Stitt made his way back to the American South, and returned to the foods and traditions of his childhood. Today, those roots combine with his vast culinary experiences and adventurous spirit to add up to what can be described as a singular, deeply rich, and passionate approach to food. He remains highly committed to the ideals of sustainable agriculture and humane animal husbandry.

Stitt is involved with Slow Food (he and his wife, Pardis, founded the Slow Food chapter in Birmingham in 2006) and is a standing board member of the Jones Valley Teaching Farm and Pepper Place Farmer’s Market, both in Birmingham. Recognizing a responsibility to promote sustainable agriculture, Stitt uses produce from area farmers and Paradise Farm, his farm in nearby Harpersvile, at his restaurants whenever possible. He was one of the first Alabama chefs and restaurateurs to champion sustainable agriculture, and his influence in this area has been noted in his community and beyond.

His flagship restaurant, Highlands Bar & Grill, opened in 1982, and its menu combines simple Southern ingredients, such as stone ground grits and country ham, with French sauces and braises. Highlands was an immediate success, and soon after, Stitt opened Bottega (1988), Café Bottega (1990) and Chez Fonfon (2000)—all in Birmingham.

His first cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill (Artisan Books) was published in 2004. The Southeastern Booksellers Association named Southern Table the best cookbook that year. His second book, Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef's Love Affair With Italian Food (also Artisan Books), was released in January 2009, and showcases Stitt’s love of the Mediterranean and Italy.

Highlands Bar & Grill has been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant each year since 2009. Stitt received the Foundation’s award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2001, and was nominated in 2008 for Outstanding Chef. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance and was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2009, the most distinguished award given to an Alabamian.

In 2011, Stitt was also inducted into Esquire magazine’s Restaurant Hall of Fame and to the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.” His restaurants are regularly featured in top regional and national outlets such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Esquire, Garden & Gun and Southern Living.

Stitt lives in Birmingham, Ala., with his wife and business partner, Pardis. He has two children, Marie and Weston.

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Chez FonFon Logo
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