Chef and restauranteur Frank Stitt is the founder and owner of four celebrated Birmingham restaurants: flagship Highlands Bar & Grill, opened in 1982; Italian-themed Bottega (1988); trattoria-style Café Bottega (1990); and French bistro Chez Fonfon (2000). In addition to winning numerous culinary awards such as the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast award in 2001 and the Horst H. Schultz Award for Excellence in Hospitality from Auburn University in 2017, Stitt won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance and was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2009. In 2011, Stitt was inducted into Esquire Magazine’s Restaurant Hall of Fame and to the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.” In 2019, Birmingham’s downtown Rotary Trail honored him with a public sculpture: “Frank’s Table,” and in 2023, he was named one of Birmingham Business Journal’s “2023 People to Watch.” His restaurants are nationally recognized in publications such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, and Southern Living, and he has been called the “godfather of Southern Cuisine” by Garden & Gun magazine.
A native of Cullman, Alabama, Stitt learned appreciation for local farming and agriculture early in life, even as he traveled with his surgeon father and experienced fine dining in big cities like New York and New Orleans. After attending Tufts University in Massachusetts for two years, Stitt moved to San Francisco to attend University of California, Berkeley and study philosophy in 1975. While in San Francisco, he began working in local restaurants, including Alice Waters’ famous Chez Panisse, and his love of cooking began to eclipse his love of philosophy. Through Waters, he met the cook and food writer Richard Olney and became his assistant. His later culinary education consisted, in part, of working with people like celebrity chef Jeremiah Tower, famous wine merchant Stephen Spurrier and cookbook writer Simca Beck, an associate of Julia Child. Stitt also spent time working in vineyards in both Provence and Burgundy.
When he returned to Alabama to open Highlands Bar & Grill in the early 1980s, he wanted to create a dining experience in Birmingham that married the craft and passion of great restaurants with a deep respect for local, sustainable agriculture. In doing so, he became one of the first proponents in Alabama of the “farm to table” movement. Highlands Bar & Grill was nominated for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Restaurant each year since 2009, and it won the award in 2018.
Stitt sits on the boards of the Birmingham-based Jones Valley Teaching Farm and Pepper Place Farmer’s Market, and served on the board of the Downtown Rotary Club of Birmingham from 2015 to 2017. He is also a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance and a former member of the Ment’or Culinary Council.
He lives in Birmingham with his wife and business partner, Pardis. He has two children, Marie (Edward) and Weston (Mallie), and three grandchildren.