European flare in Southern fare

Chef Frank Stitt blends the cooking traditions of Europe with those of the southern regions of the United States.

by: Richard Leong from Reuters | 22 Apr 2008

Chef Frank Stitt shows his deep love of the South by showcasing local produce, meats and seafood in his interpretations of classic European cuisines.

The Alabama native's first restaurant Highlands Bar and Grill, which opened more than 25 years ago, is known for its blending of the traditions of the southern regions of the United States and France.

Stitt, who runs two other eateries in Birmingham, traveled extensively before returning to Alabama. His journey took him to the University of California, Berkeley where he helped out at Alice Water's Chez Panisse for food.

He also honed his cooking skills in France as the personal assistant to American food writer Richard Olney and developed his passion for sustainable farming.

Q: How do you describe your cuisine?
A: "Our food at Highlands weaves my love of French cooking with my southern roots, our southern ingredients and our southern heritage. I would like to think there is an original side of what we do at Highlands. It is a food with a French aesthetic through a Southerner's eyes."

Q; Besides working with local farmers, how do you obtain fresh ingredients?
A: "Now we started our own farm where we get our chicken and eggs. We have our own produce. That farm connection is cliche a little bit. But for a country boy, it really rings true to me."

Q: Who still inspires you?
A: "I still go back to the writing of Richard Olney and Elizabeth David -- those are the bedrock. And there's Alice Water. I'm a student of food history and all kinds of culinary traditions. Basically, my cooking is grounded in France, Italy and the Mediterranean and how they weave with the ingredients in Alabama."

Q: What do cook for yourself?
A: "It's usually a pasta dish with a salad with arugula and little radishes. I do also eat a lot of fish. It's usually a quick saute with capers, lemon, olive oil, olives and fresh herbs. That's something I'm never tired of."

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