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 south, to return 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.
Today, 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 Urban Farm and Pepper Place Farmer’s Market, both in Birmingham. Recognizing a responsibility to promote sustainable agriculture, Stitt uses produce from area farmers at his restaurants whenever possible. He was one of the first Alabama chefs/restaurateurs to champion sustainable agriculture, and his influence in this area has been noted in his community and beyond.
His flagship restaurant, Highlands Bar and Grill, opened in 1982, and its menu combines simple southern ingredients, such as stone ground grits and country ham, with French sauces and braises. The result is superb, delicately balanced flavors. Highlands was an immediate success, and soon after, he opened Bottega (1988), Café Bottega (1990), and Chez Fonfon (2000)—all in Birmingham.
2004 marked the release of Stitt’s first cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table, Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill (Artisan Books). The Southeastern Booksellers Association named Southern Table the best cookbook of 2005. Stitt’s second cookbook, Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair With Italian Food (also Artisan Books), was released nationally in January 2009. Bottega Favorita showcases Stitt’s love of the Mediterranean and Italy.
In 2011, Chef Stitt was inducted into Esquire magazine’s Restaurant Hall of Fame and the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America”. Highlands Bar and Grill was nominated for the fourth time by the James Beard Foundation in 2012 for the Outstanding Restaurant Award. 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, the most distinguished award given to an Alabamian. He has appeared on the “Martha Stewart Show”, PBS’s “Chefs A‘Field”, ABC’s “Nightline”, and the CBS “Early Show”. His restaurants are regularly featured in top national and regional outlets such as The New York Times, Men’s Journal, Esquire, Food Arts, Men’s Health, Saveur, Southern Living, Garden & Gun and Newsweek.
Stitt lives in Birmingham with his wife and business partner, Pardis. He has two children, Marie and Weston. The Stitts have a working farm about an hour away from Birmingham, where they raise chickens, gather eggs and grow produce for use in all of their restaurants.