Last year, Highlands Bar & Grill, one of Chef Frank Stitt’s four notable restaurants in Birmingham, Alabama, was crowned the most Outstanding Restaurant in the country at the annual James Beard Foundation Awards. Though his culinary journey started in the sun-kissed South of France, Frank has developed a presence and popularity here in the American South that many chefs admire and aspire to. When asked how he got to where he is today, this is what he had to say.
What inspires your passion for cooking?
I love eating. I love the sensation of eating something that’s really luscious and delicious. I get swept away by the beauty and joy of eating a ripe strawberry, so things like that inspire my cooking.
How do you keep your restaurants fresh and forward-thinking?
We are constantly exploring and educating ourselves. Discovering a little magic and excitement in something new makes us want to share it through a bit of our own personal passion and technique. That’s what moves me. It is about constantly learning.
Your restaurants have been Birmingham hotspots for decades. How do you keep your patrons coming back?
People like to talk to someone who is well versed and knowledgeable about what they’re saying, whether it’s about drinks, desserts, or food. Our staff is committed, and our guests are drawn to that. You’ve got to create a great energy that people recognize and want to experience again.
What is one moment in your culinary education that sticks out to you the most?
When I was working with Richard Olney in the South of France, we had a dinner with Simone “Simca” Beck and Julia Child. That entire chapter of my life was all about the inspiration I got from Olney’s pure brilliance and influence. It still inspires me to this day.
Do you have a favorite spring ingredient?
I am crazy about asparagus. I remember gathering it with my grandmother years and years ago. Now, we do all kinds of things with asparagus at all the restaurants.