QUOTES FROM THE FOODIES ABOUT LOCAL CHEFS
In keeping with our coverage of Birmingham running for Tastiest Town in the South, we asked some local food and wine experts–we appointed them as pundits, at least–to talk about their favorite chefs and food events:
EL BARRIO, newly opened in the Loft District on Second Avenue North, is absolutely the most exciting new restaurant I’ve been to in months. Not only is it conveniently located in my neighborhood, it has all the requirements of a great destination for me: walking distance; great atmosphere; cozy but with great design; great service and terrific, made-to-order, fresh, locallysourced cuisine! And vinuously speaking, I love the wine selection: eclectic, affordable, just the right size and very of-the-moment offerings. The only wish on my part is that they accepted reservations, as it’s been terrifically busy. Wendy Watts Wine Buyer Whole Food Market Mountain Brook Alabama
Over the last 20 years, Birmingham has distinguished itself as a “breeding ground” for talented chefs, in all genres. Just look at the diversity, from new American cuisine like Hot & Hot’s Chris Hastings and Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar & Grill, to Kay Reed of Cafe Iz, who personifies the profound need to ‘feed people,’ to Chef Clayton and Jarnetta Jarman, who recently started a healthy menu choice for catering. Chris Dupont has rejuvenated downtown, along with the new culinary style at El Barrio. Just goes on and on, so the question is: who can compete?
Tina Savas, Author & Speaker is among the first wave of women entrepreneurs in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1983, she founded the Birmingham Business Journal newspaper, followed by Alabama Health News, Alabama Construction News, and Birmingham Weekly. Her book, Women of True Grit, has received recognition nationwide.
Hot New Chefs? Chefs in Birmingham are so confusing— They all seem to be named Chris! Hastings, Melville, Dupont, Zapalowski, Z, Kennedy, Newsome...and I am sure I am missing four or five, out of the bunch...and for all I know Frank Stitt’s middle name is Chris! And George Sarris’ middle name might even be Christos! Anyway, why do we celebrate our new chefs in Birmingham? And what attracts new chefs to Birmingham? I think it is the traditions of good food from the classics—BrightStar; Niki’s; Michael’s; The great roots of those who have worked constantly for years to improve the food scene in this state; like Frank Stitt, George Sarris, Clayton Sherrod, Connie Kanakis; And finally the sprouting of new seeds from those great roots, even if so many of them are named Chris! Some of them grew up here, went off to learn and hone new skills, but came back to the family roots. Others were drawn to those who were already here and came here to learn and hone those skills, staying on because they found a new home. But I think that two institutions have been key to improving the food scene in Birmingham: UAB and Southern Progress Corporation. Both have broadened the community greatly, bringing in people of culture and intelligence to add to the already rich mix that was here. Some chefs, like myself, moved to Birmingham as a “trailing spouse,” following a new hire by one of those two organizations.
And great food events just grow around good food and communities...just try to park anywhere near the annual Greek Food Festival! They have to hire extra police to direct the traffic in the take-out lines. Every Saturday morning from April to December a whole group of foodies gather down at Pepper Place Saturday Market, a cultural, culinary, social scene and event that grew out of a couple of people having a cup of coffee and wanting to connect consumers and farmers... and save some family farms along the way! And out of that some chefs got together and formed the Birmingham Originals who put on an awesome tasting event, Break n Bread, in October to celebrate local chefs, food, restaurants, and most importantly the public that appreciates them and keeps them going! We have a gem downtown in Jones Valley Urban Farm, that implemented cutting edge programs in farm to table, when other places just were talking about starting them. It has spawned many Community Gardens, and gardens in schools, and further education of those who cook for our schools. It seems that every year we start something new, building on the success of prior events, improving and developing the food community that we enjoy here in Birmingham.
We even got a grassroots movement going to change the liquor laws so we could enjoy better beer. That was not the government... that was the people who made the change... the people in this city and state who care about better food and drinks!
Franklin Biggs is a former owner and founder of Homewood Gourmet, immensely respected chef in town, and column writer for the Birmingham Weekly. Be sure to check out Food Memory every week for his column (and new recipes!)