Chef Frank Stitt
Frank Stitt did not set out to be a chef. He studied philosophy at Berkley during the turbulent 1970's when he first met Alice Waters of the renowned Chez Panisse. Since, he has piled up local, regional and national gastronomic awards and become one of Alabama's favorite sons.
Frank's fondness for humble southern ingredients comes from his own roots in rural Alabama. His culinary journey began in San Francisco and includes such mentors as Alice Waters, Simca Beck and Richard Olney. His travels took him throughout the French countryside working in vineyards in Provence as well as Burgundy and finally back home to foods and traditions that continue to be so much a part of his vision. His first restaurant, Highlands Bar & Grill, opened in 1982. Here, Frank combines consummate French technique and the seasonal flavors of "both south's" - of course the local south, but the south of France as well. Buttery-colored walls donned with vintage posters and subtle lighting are the setting for the intimate dining room while the bar exudes a lively energy with locals and travelers alike seated around the Alabama marble oyster bar. At Highlands, humble southern ingredients such as stone ground grits and country ham meet French sauces and braises creating superb flavors and elegant balance.
Even though Highlands was filling a definite need for fine dining without pretension, it wasn't long before Frank became restless, wanting to experiment with all he encountered in Italy, Greece and Spain. He didn't want to muddle those influences with the essentially French theme at Highlands. The only answer?? Bottega and Café Bottega.
Imagine a warmly lit room paneled in walnut, the crisp white tablecloths absorbing the gleam of the copper bar. The aromas filling the room are reminiscent of Italy and the Mediterranean: simple Venetian fish dishes, Tuscan roasts, spices and complexities of North Africa, Andalusia and the Mediterranean basin. This is Bottega.
The café is patterned after bustling Italian trattorias. An open kitchen and wood-fired brick oven lend to the energy of excitement and warmth of this "little brother" of Bottega Restaurant. Pizzas topped with farm eggs, mascarpone, prosciutto and Bottega's roast pork loin with polenta, tomato chutney aïoli and Venetian spinach are just two of the items on the seasonally changing menu. Murals and paintings by local artists add to the "urban" feel of the high-ceilinged café.
Frank's focus and determination to strive for only the best is not limited to "back of the house." His staff, some of whom have worked with him since the very beginning, are quizzed and coached to make sure that their knowledge of the menu is thorough. Visiting winemakers from around the world conduct seminars, and daily staff meetings before service provide a time for continuing education and sometimes a taste of the newest addition.
Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega and Café Bottega bring to tangible form the passion Frank has for the romance and allure of the regions the three restaurants represent. In addition to returning to Europe whenever possible, he is always researching old and new recipe books, history books - anything that may spark an idea for something new or add richness to a dish already on the menu.
- Selected Fifth best restaurant in the nation by Gourmet magazine 2001.
- James Beard Award winner for "Best Chef of the Southeast" 2001.
- Wine Spectator "Award of Excellence," Highlands and Bottega 2001.
- Voted into the 1992 Fine Dining Hall of Fame by "Nations Restaurant News"
- Named one of Food and Wine magazines's Top 25 Hot New American chefs
- Winner of Cooking Light magazine's "Cooking with Wisconsin Cheese Contest" 1994
- A "Saute to Southern Chefs" participant 1993-1998
- Consulting editor to Saveur magazine, 1994
- A James Beard Foundation Rising Star of American Cuisine
- A James Beard Foundation Great Regional chef
- Esquire magazine Best Regional Restaurant
- SOS Great Chefs of America
- Voted Birmingham's Best Restaurant 1991-1999 by Birmingham Magazine
- Named one of the Independent Restaurant magazine's 25 Shining Stars
- Board of Directors, Chef's Collaborative
- Board of Directors, Southern Foodways Alliance
- State wide Chair: Share Our Strength
- Food Chair: "Magic Moments" Wine Auction, an annual fund raiser to benefit terminally ill children
- Food Chair: "An Event in Three Acts," an annual fund raiser for Birmingham AIDS Outreach
- Inducted as member of Leadership Birmingham 1993
- Featured chef on the Discovery Channel's "Great Chefs, Great Cities" television series
- Featured in the Food Network's "Best Of..." series
- Frank has been a guest chef and/or speaker for numerous culinary events, including: Napa Valley Wine Auction, AIWF, Bacchus Society, Symposium on american Cuisine, IWFS, Callaway Gardens, The cloister and James Beard House.
- Feature articles on Frank and all three restaurants have appeared in Gourmet, Metropolitan Home, Art Culinaire, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Travel and Leisure, Southern Living, Southern Accents, The Wine Spectator, Playboy, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar, Ladies Home Journal, McCall's, woman's Day, Restaurant Business, Santé, Independent Restaurants, Nation's Restaurant News,the New York Times, USA Today, Delta Airline's Sky magazine and Cooking.com.