Frank Stitt III is the owner and executive chef of Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega Restaurant, and Chez Fon Fon in Birmingham, Alabama. He was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who of Food and Beverage" in 2011. He was also named the "Best Chef in the Southeast" in 2001 foundation, and was a 2008 finalist for the its national "Outstanding Chef" award. He has also been recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance for his elevation of Southern cuisine and his early advocacy of locally-grown food.
Stitt, the son of a surgeon, was born in 1954 and grew up in Cullman, Alabama. After graduating high school in 1972 he spent a year in Europe. He began his studies at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, then transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, as a philosophy major. It was through philosophical treatises on food by authors such as Richard Olney and Elizabeth David that he developed an interest in cooking. He tried unsuccessfully to apprentice himself to area chefs, until Fritz Luenberger brought him on at his Casablanca restaurant.
Stitt soon worked his way into the kitchen at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse. From her he was introduced to Olney, who was living in Provence and compiling a multi-volume Time–Life series on cooking. He became Olney's assistant. While there he met other notable chefs and food writers such as Julia Child, Jeremiah Tower, and Simone Beck. He also took menial jobs, such as grape harvesting, that would allow him to learn more about foods. While there he began working on ideas for marrying Southern foods with French cooking techniques that would set the tone for his flagship restaurant.
After leaving France, Stitt worked in the Caribbean for a while before returning to Alabama. He took a job as a sommelier at a wine shop and as a chef for the Hyatt House hotel while teaching cooking classes privately. He was unable to interest local banks in loaning him money to start his own restaurant, so he approached friends and family. His mother re-mortgaged her house to help out, and Highlands Bar and Grill opened in November 1982. The restaurant quickly became a success, allowing Stitt to repay his investors within four years.
In 1988 Stitt opened Bottega Restaurant nearby, borrowing on Italian cooking traditions. Both restaurants spawned more casual siblings, Bottega Cafe adjoining Bottega, and Chez Fonfon next door to Highlands. Stitt's kitchens have directly influenced many local culinary talents, such as Chris Hastings, owner of Hot and Hot Fish Club. His activism on behalf of locally-grown farm products has energized the area's local food movement.
Stitt and his wife, Pardis, have been recognized by many publications and have won numerous national culinary awards. His first cookbook, Frank Stitt's Southern Table has been a best-seller and was named "Best Cookbook" for 2005 by the Southern Booksellers Association. Stitt was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2009.
- Stitt, Frank. (2004) Frank Stitt's Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill. New York: Artisan Books. ISBN 1579652468
- Stitt, Frank (2008) Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef's Love Affair with Italian Food. New York: Artisan Books. ISBN 1579653022
- Rodenwald, James. (October 2002) "A star fell on Alabama." Gourmet Magazine
- Egerton, John & John T. Edge (2006) "2006 Lifetime Achievement Award – Frank Stitt". Southern Foodways Alliance
- Hagood, Kathy (February 2012) "What makes Frank Stitt cook?" Business Alabama
- Carlton, Bob (November 16, 2008) "20 years of favorites." Birmingham News