Photo: Courtesy of James Beard Foundation
Birmingham’s own Chris Hastings, chef and owner of Hot and Hot Fish Club, took home a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: South this past Monday. We caught up with him to talk about what he’s currently cooking up for this weekend’s Atlanta Food & Wine Festival and beyond.
What’s your favorite cookbook?
Under Pressure by Thomas Keller
What was the most inspiring meal you've eaten this year?
It was at restaurant SHO in NYC. Shaun Hergatt's deep understanding of both flavor and technique, along with his discipline and precision, blew my mind both times I have dined at his restaurant. He’s a star.
Which item on the menu at Hot and Hot Fish Club best defines your style of cooking and why?
Being 17 years old, we have seen our food evolve so much that I am inclined to point to our more recent work as to what defines our cuisine. An example is The Shad Roe wrapped in Benton's bacon with McEwan & Sons white grits, wild watercress, Snow’s Bend English peas, crispy fried country ham, and a preserved lemon vinaigrette. For the second course, it would be a composed salad of Cullman County strawberries, compressed rhubarb, Marcona almonds, hearts of palm, and shaved celery with herb vinaigrette (pictured below). It’s very composed and technique driven with tons of flavor and balance, relative to its acidity.
What would you cook for James Beard to celebrate your recent award?
I would do small portions, and start with a beautiful soup with fresh vegetables, lemon, and basil oil. The soup has a tomato and corn flavor broth with baby squash, asparagus, fava beans, and English peas. It’s delicious. Second course would be grilled shrimp and lamb chorizo with fennel and lemon purée, then I’d do the poached snapper jowl with basil and petite carrots, then the soft-shelled crab with squash, celery root slaw, and local arugula. For dessert, it’d be strawberry shortcake.
What cocktail did you toast with after winning?
I went to the green room, and met up with a good friend John Currence. When I joined up with my wife and two sons downstairs, we had a champagne toast.
What's next for you?
I want to stay active in the development of our local food community. I want to stay involved in leadership with Grant Brigham at Jones Valley Teaching Farm, working with Hilltop Montessori School in Mt Laurel, and Cathy Crenshaw on her development ideas. I want to stay active at Lake Martin to develop their food community. That relationship is very important. I’m very involved with Bocuse d’Or, the American culinary team to go to Lyon for what is, essentially, the food Olympics. And, I want to continue to evolve and grow Hot and Hot Fish Club to be as good as it can be. I want to push on everything we do so that when people come through, they have the highest possible quality experience in terms of hospitality, food, wine, and mixology.
Chris will be at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival this weekend, cooking in a Wild Game Dinner on Friday night at a private estate in Buckhead (with visiting chefs Derek Emerson, Kelly English, Lee Richardson, and Master Sommelier James Tidwell). Catch his chat about “Hunting, Foraging, and Gathering” on Saturday at 11:45am, followed by a book signing.