Hot Chef: He’s the best chef in the South. An ‘Iron Chef’ winner. Next week, he’ll be cooking in Oxford.
by Lisa Davis
Jul 04, 2012 | 3531 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo: Special to The Star
Photo: Special to The Star
Chris Hastings of the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham is one of Alabama’s most acclaimed chefs. (You should taste what he can do with seafood.) He’s also been friends with Dave Garfrerick for more than a decade, serving as a mentor as Garfrerick opened his own acclaimed restaurant, Garfrerick’s Café in Oxford.

The two will celebrate their friendship on Tuesday, when Hastings comes to town for a celebrity chef night at Garfrerick’s. The two chefs will cook a five-course dinner in the café’s open kitchen, and most likely joke around while they’re doing it. Call it dinner and a show.

The two cooked together at Garfrerick’s a couple of years ago. Since then, Hastings’ rising star has gone supernova.

In May, he was named the Best Chef in the South by the James Beard Foundation, a prestigious award he calls “the holy grail” for chefs.

In February, he competed on “Iron Chef America” against Bobby Flay — and won. On “Iron Chef,” he showcased his passion: fresh, local, seasonal foods of the South.

Hastings, 50, spoke this week about his awards, the Alabama seafood industry and what comes next for Hastings and his wife, Idie, his business partner and also his pastry chef.

Q: You finally won a James Beard Award after being nominated four times earlier. What was different about this year?

A: The rules with the Beard Foundation are that you can’t weigh in on a vote until you’ve eaten food in that particular restaurant. That’s probably one reason it’s taken as long as it has.

When the cookbook came out (that would be “The Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook,” published in 2009), I was on the road doing events all over the country, all kinds of food festivals, so people who otherwise did not get a chance to eat our food — because they weren’t coming to Birmingham — got a chance to try our food.

More and more people are making trips to come to Birmingham to try the food. Birmingham has become known as one of the great little gems in the food world. It’s having its “wow” moment. It suffers mightily from its reputation, but people actually get here and say, wow, this is an amazing place.

Q: You also whupped up on Bobby Flay this year. How did you prepare for “Iron Chef?”

A: If you cook in a restaurant, everything is right in front of you. If you cook in Kitchen Stadium, stuff is all over the set. So you have to practice how to get to where things are. We’d practice from 6-11 a.m. a few days a week. We’d put all the food in the dining room. Then we’d start at our stations in the kitchen, and run back and forth to the dining room to get food. My wife was there with the timer, and she’d be peppering us with questions.

Q: And your secret ingredient was sausage. Not a bad deal for a Southern chef.

A: Yeah, that was a nice, slow pitch across the middle. The chef that had been there the day before, his battle was canned tuna. That was just brutal to watch.

Q: But you didn’t stop there. You also took along a jar of peach moonshine.

A: Back at the release of our cookbook, a friend of mine had given me three big jars of moonshine. This was the last one I had. I saw it in the back of the fridge about a week before the show, and thought, “I need to bring that.”

On the show, occasionally, they’ll throw in a cocktail. My wife has these beautiful little aperitif glasses from her grandmother, and we brought those. Everybody enjoyed a little digestif after the meal.

It was the first time moonshine has shown up in Kitchen Stadium. It caught the attention of the judges, that’s for sure. By the end of the show, everybody on set was drinking it.

Q: You just filmed a commercial in support of Alabama’s seafood industry. How is the Gulf, two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill? Did your seafood suppliers weather the economic storm?

A: The good news was that a lot of them held on, scrapped and fought like small businesses do, and they survived. A handful probably didn’t, but all the people I’ve known for years and years held on.

I think there are always going to be safety concerns, because it’s such a large amount of oil that still exists out there. All the research I’ve seen says that the oil is fairly well contained. It’s not lapping up on shore, it’s not being cast all over the Gulf. And it’s slowly being eaten away by microorganisms. The question we all have is, what happens if a large storm gets in the Gulf and churns that up?

Q: After all the awards of this year, what’s next? Another restaurant?

A: We’re trying to assess that now. One of the things Idie and I said was that we didn’t want to be having a bunch of different restaurants while our kids were in school. We wanted to be involved in their lives, in coaching their teams, in Scouting — normal things. Restauranting is not a normal lifestyle. We wanted to have a normal life, as much as possible.

Now they’re off to college, and we’ve had some recent success, some national recognition. How do we take this moment; how can we grow this business?

One thing I like about our restaurant is that it’s our only restaurant. I’m a little bit obsessive and compulsive about the details. I can make sure things are right at one place a lot more easily than at four.

Maybe we develop products that we manufacture and sell.

Q: Do you even have time to cook anymore?

A: I cook dinner pretty much every night when I’m home, for my wife and children. We had a great meal last night with local eggplant, tomatoes, a beautiful piece of steak, lima beans, fresh corn. It’s a delightful time of year to be eating.

Hastings & Garfrerick

• 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Garfrerick’s Café, 655 Creekside Drive, Oxford

• Five-course dinner and five wines, including:

• Salmon, cured in-house with herbs, Garfrerick Farms heirloom tomatoes, burrata cheese with pesto.

• Pan-seared diver scallops on Garfrerick Farms creamed sweet corn with saffron corn coulis.

• Herb-rubbed redfish on a summer salad of heirloom tomatoes, grilled red onion, grilled eggplant, sweet corn, fresh basil and citrus vinaigrette.

• Braised beef roulade stuffed with porcini and cremini mushrooms and ground pork with rich beef jus served on mushroom risotto.

• Price is $95 per person (not including tax and gratuity).

• Reservations at 256-831-0044.
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