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
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    How does Chris Hastings come up with his menus?

    It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, we talk to all of our purveyors, we seize the moment that’s coming and the moment that’s fading, and we try to plan for the availability of those things. Sedesh Boodram is our sous chef at the restaurant, and I control the process and creation of the dishes. We collect our data, start ordering things, flesh out ideas, cook together and fine tune — we’ll cook a dish once or 10 times, whatever it takes to evolve it to where we want it to be. It’s more controlled than it used to be. We used to say, ‘Hey, something just hit the back door, let’s do a dish.’ And that was fine but we’ve become a little more thoughtful and refined and the entire process has to be attached to that — how we receive a product, taste it, articulate it into a great dish, and then have that documented properly with recipe writing and photographs, and then teaching the cooks and then the staff.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What are Chris Hastings’ favorite cookbooks?

    Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way by Francis Mallmann is one of my all-time favorites. Thomas Keller is somebody I’ve always admired. I’ve eaten in all of his restaurants and his commitment to technique and precision is enviable and just blows me away. It’s very compelling to see his food and how his thought process comes through in the flavors and the layering. Every little detail is so well thought out and works in the final execution. It’s just brilliant.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    Who has inspired Chris Hastings’ culinary career?

    There are so many. François Lecoin who was a Frenchman I worked with at The Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta. I was the assistant sous chef and he was an old-school French guy. He was so strong in his technique and his passion for food, and really taught me a lot about leadership, great cooking and doing technically smart work. Franz Mitterer was the executive chef at the time. He’s an Austrian and he assembled a collection of chefs from all over the country and the world — Swedes, Germans, Austrians, Americans, and a lot of Europeans. I’d also include Frank Stitt here in Birmingham. He’s a legend. Frank is a great teacher and orator. He really can explain well and teach the things that he has in his mind about food. I also had the good fortune to work with Bradley Ogden in San Francisco when we opened up the Lark Creek Inn. That was a great experience. He really taught me the farm-to-table thing. We would shop at the market at Civic Center and Terra Linda several times a week. I learned to develop relationships with the farming community on a personal level and learned how valuable it is to know the farmer, the farmers’ wives and parents and children. That was a real light bulb moment for me. That’s probably the biggest influence on how we cook today. Though the European influence and Frank’s influence was huge, at the end of the day I’d probably align myself most with the California style of thinking where food comes right from the farm to the table — a healthy, clean kind of reinvention of Southern techniques and other techniques that I’ve come across.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What are Chris Hastings’ favorite ingredients?

    I love anything that is handed to me by someone who really cares deeply about it, and also, if the ingredient just has that mind-blowing flavor. But if I had to pick one, I’d say a perfect tomato.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What are Chris Hastings’ most important kitchen tools?

    Our band saw at the restaurant is really important. We use it to butcher whole animals — lambs, pigs, everything. We also use it for fish because we do all kinds of different bone-in fish preparations. I’d also say wood. Wood for us is so dimensional. Whether it’s for smoking, coal cooking, the wood-burning oven or the grill, there’s just so much dimension we can add to the flavor profiles and textures with wood. The band saw and wood are absolute must-haves.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    Where would Chris Hastings get the ingredients for his ultimate dinner party?

    If for example, we’re doing something Asian influenced, there’s the Super Oriental Market with a little restaurant inside called the Red Pearl that I’ll go to get all kinds of crazy stuff like live frog, pig ear, blue crabs, soft shell turtle, blood, plus Asian ingredients that you otherwise can’t get. The Alabama Farmers Market is right here in town; it’s a 365-day a year market for the small farmers and it also has big warehouses for large producers. So if you’ve got five acres of collard greens or mustard greens, you can literally come with your truck loaded down throughout the year, and sell to the general public, chefs like me or anybody who wants to shop. It’s a great market for that purpose.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What would Chris Hastings serve at his ultimate dinner party?

    It depends on whether it’s a big party or a sit-down among a small group of people where you have really dynamic conversation and great food. Both of those are a lot fun. Each year we do a Christmas party with all of our neighbors; we carol and do a great buffet and lots of food. We bring in a violinist who plays Christmas songs and we sing along. But I really like serving small groups multi-course meals where I do all the cooking and serving, but it’s usually a long meal and [the menu] depends on what time of year it is.
  • On April 4, 2013
    Chris Hastings answered the question: Chris Hastings

    What does Chris Hastings always have in his refrigerator?

    Not much! There’s yogurt. I like to keep a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit around, and different grains and cereals. We’re fortunate that we have access to all the restaurant purveyors so we always have good chicken from our local guys and fresh eggs from somebody like McEwen & Sons. Wright Dairy provides us with really good milk. Of course we have beer and we do have peanut butter and jelly. I enjoy PB&J sandwiches after a hard day so that’s my go-to late-night snack.