Chris Hastings

Chef, Restaurateur

Birmingham

James Beard Award winner Chris Hastings is executive chef and owner of Birmingham’s lauded Hot and Hot Fish Club. Hastings opened the restaurant in 1995 after spending years as a chef in Birmingham, Atlanta and San Francisco. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native incorporates Southern flavors into his American cuisine. The menus are micro-seasonal, a philosophy he learned while working alongside his mentor, chef Bradley Ogden in California at Lark Creek Inn in Walnut Creek. He cooked out West at the height of California’s farm-to-table movement, and is still a huge supporter. Hastings released his first book, The Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook, in 2009 and is the director of the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation’s Culinary Council. He hopes to follow up the success of Hot and Hot Fish Club with a more casual spot in Birmingham this year.

  • On April 4, 2013
    Andi Berens is now following Chris Hastings
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What is the best time of the year to visit Birmingham?

    Spring is just so stunningly beautiful in terms of the natural beauty — the magnolias are in bloom, the dogwoods are starting to come around. You can go out in the woods and find Easter lilies. The spring creeks are choked with watercress. Plus, I’m an avid outdoorsman so I’m always into turkey wood and chasing turkeys that time of year. I get to see it in a really up close and personal way. It’s a mind blower. But then again, fall’s pretty good here too, particularly if you like college football.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What are the best brunch spots in Birmingham?

    There’s a restaurant across the street from us, Veranda on Highland. The chef there is doing a really good brunch. But the country clubs are where most people go for brunch. That’s kind of a hold out from back in the day. Before the restaurant community, most people used to eat at home or the country club because there were no restaurants. There’s a very strong country club community here so that’s where most people go.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What are the best things to do in Birmingham?

    1. The Birmingham Museum of Art and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute are really amazing amenities in our city.

    2. One of the things people may or may not know about Birmingham, the surrounding area and Alabama generally is that it has some of the most beautiful topography and natural resources. It’s the largest river system of any state in the world or in the country.

    3. I’d also say going to the farmers market and a great seasonal market called the Pepper Place Market that’s open May through October. It’s artisanal — so the cheese makers, farmers, the honey makers and the egg producers are all there.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    Where are the best places to eat in Birmingham?

    This is a mature food market because when Frank [Stitt] opened his restaurant in 1982, that was the big bang moment for Birmingham. An independent food scene was born. It’s been wildly successful and important in Southern culture and since that time, a lot of people have come out of Frank’s kitchen and out of my kitchen and other people’s kitchens to create a real diverse market. We have great food trucks like Shindigs, and great local restaurants like Ollie Irene, Bettola, Stones Throw Bar and Grill, Brick & Tin and El Barrio. I could go on and on. Also our barbecue community is really strong, whether it’s Jim ‘N Nick’s or Golden Rule or Full Moon. Plus, we’ve got an interesting hot dog culture — the Greek community 100 years ago started popping up these really great little hot dog stands that are amazing.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What is the best trip Chris Hastings has ever taken?

    We took a really great trip to Patagonia. We stopped in Buenos Aires and toured all the little shops and the bigger art houses. We went to a local soccer game, with a favorite soccer team called Boca. They were known for having the world-renowned soccer player Diego Maradona. We were in this small soccer stadium and Maradona shows up and it was like the second coming of Christ — the place went wild. The street food was incredible outside and the energy inside was great. Then we went from Buenos Aires to Patagonia where we stayed in this cabin overlooking Traful Lake and fished for giant round trout. We had our own cabin, but gauchos would come up and prepare our lunch — things like grilled sweetbreads, lamb, all of the parts of the animal. We had an incredible, typical, Argentine outside alfresco dining experience. It was just amazing.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What does Chris Hastings bring back from his travels?

    I always visit food markets, butcher shops, bakeries, pastry shops and wine shops. I like to collect odds and ends from our travels that are reflective of the community and culture.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    Who does Chris Hastings always travel with?

    A lot of my travel is work-related. But my wife Idie and I love to travel with our kids — they saw more continents before they were 20 than I saw before I was 40. We’ve done a lot of traveling together and I think it’s been good because it’s given them the perspective that it’s always beneficial to get out of your own place.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What are Chris Hastings’ favorite restaurants?

    I love Do Forni in Venice; I love Dino & Tony’s in Rome. In San Francisco, SPQR — it’s the old Roman letters for Rome, and a great little Italian restaurant on Fillmore. I think [È Tutto] Qua is doing precise, beautiful food. Charleston is also one of my favorite places to travel to as a Lowcountry guy. Whether it’s Fig or Husk or McCrady’s. I also love Ken Vedrinski’s Italian restaurant, Lucca in Charleston.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What are Chris Hastings’ favorite hotels?

    Probably not as much of a hotel junkie as a lot of people are, but we generally stay at the best hotels we can find in places like Venice, Rome, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Buenos Aires. What I really like to do is try to find a flat and immerse ourselves into the community. You can shop at the market, you go to the cafés, eat charming meals on the street with the locals, and try to be reasonably articulate with the language. I know there are hotel junkies, and I get it because it’s luxurious and it’s awesome, but I probably prefer the latter. That’s where you can really do your intel and talk to people about the local restaurants. That to me is where we are more comfortable.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What are Chris Hastings’ favorite cities?

    I always love Venice. I love the Rialto Market there. And I love, love, love Rome. I like being in the South of France generally, whether it’s Monaco or little towns like Saint-Paul-de-Vence. I’ve always been a huge San Francisco fan and I also love Seattle and Portland. Those places have really strong food traditions. I’m also a big fan of Buenos Aires. I love the gaucho cuisine — it speaks to my love of wood.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What makes a successful restaurant to Chris Hastings?

    Hard work. You have to have an unrelenting commitment to detail and a real clear philosophy, too. Restaurants lose their way — either they lose their attention to detail or they try to be something they’re not philosophically and that can be a slippery slope. You have to know who you are and what you envision from the beginning and stay true to that course, assuming it’s the right course. What we envisioned [for Hot and Hot Fish Club] many years ago has come true. Stay true to your philosophy — don’t be a trend follower but someone who stays in front of the evolution. Also having a great partner like my wife, Idie. You’ve got to have a great partner. Where would I be without her?
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What keeps Chris Hastings passionate about cooking and the restaurant industry?

    Working with the ingredients and touching and handling them to come up with great dishes. Then the biggest thing is seeing what happens to the people I’m trying to reach. When people to come to our restaurant and say, ‘Geez, what is happening? I’ve never tasted a beet like this.’ That’s always given me a lot of energy to make sure that’s what we’re trying to accomplish every day.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What is the best meal Chris Hastings has ever had?

    The meals I ate in the summer with my family when I was a kid. They have probably formed my thinking more than anything — and it’s more specific than any dinner at the table. Back in the day at Pawleys Island, S.C., I was the creek boy for the family so I’d pick clams, oysters, crab and shrimp. We’d always get the fresh tomatoes and peas and okra without realizing at those times, the power of being at the table, breaking bread and the magic and hope of food. As an adult it became very clear to me, particularly after I became a professional chef, those moments, those flavors, that food, that breaking of bread — that was big medicine. All of my mother’s ancestors were rice planters back from the late 1750s on. They were around Pawleys Island, so I have a rich history there.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What is Chris Hastings’ favorite cuisine?

    I love all food. I’m drawn naturally to the Italians and their sensibilities. I think their passion for eating and life and the way that it’s simple and casual, but at the same time brilliant and precise and beautiful, is certainly attractive to me. Of course, all Southern culture and food — which is a very diverse tapestry of things that everybody tends to whitewash as one-dimensional. There’s so much to Southern cuisine. I’m finally getting to understand it a little bit better. I love that. I also love all Asian foods and cultures. Talk about simplicity and technique and deliciousness.