The Foodies: Chef Chris Hastings

If Chef Chris Hastings were a songwriter, he would be multi-platinum. His culinary accolades have turned him into a nationally recognized name in foodie circles and beyond. While he hails from Charlotte, North Carolina, happenstance and some great mentors put him on a path that eventually landed him in Birmingham. He opened Hot and Hot Fish Club in 1995 and started cultivating signature dishes prepared from fresh, local and regional seasonal ingredients—and his star just keeps on rising.

Chef Hastings’s curriculum vitae goes something like this: James Beard Foundation Award, Best Chef in the South, 2011; Winner, Iron Chef Award, 2012; Spokesperson, Alabama Gulf Seafood organization, TV personality on “Bizarre Foods America, ” with host Andrew Zimmern, and more—a lot more.Be on the look out for new projects, more innovative ideas, and a voice that will continue to take Birmingham to greater heights.

The More You Know

We know Chef Hastings makes the best tomato salad in town but here are a few fun thing you might not know…

Close-to-home getaway?
You’ll find Chef Hastings and his wife, Idie, at Lake Martin. Chef Hastings was the consulting chef for SpringHouse, one of Lake Martin-goers favorite restaurants. 

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The Hastings make their vacations choices based on restaurants. Favorites? 
New York: Dining: Buco Alimentari; Sleeping: Ace Hotel. San Francisco: SPQR Restaurant

Chef’s favorite on-hand summer ingredients for a good, fresh summer meal?
Tomatoes, fresh peas, okra, local seasonal fruit such as strawberries and peaches, figs. Fresh herbs and good extra virgin olive oil.

Guilty indulgence?
Ben and Jerry’s Milk and Cookies ice cream.

In the Kitchen

In addition to running a restaurant, catering farm-to-table events, and making speaking engagements, Hastings consults on home kitchen design. Recently he spoke to the AIA (Alabama Institute of Architecture) at European Kitchen of Alabama (Pepper Place, about what makes a kitchen really cook:

  • A large island Preferably one with dual levels: one for sitting,  one for tasks.
  • Low-volume exhaust vent So you can be in on the conversation.
  • Efficiency is key Everything should be within easy reach—no more than a step or two from the main work station.
  • Clean spaces A clutter-free kitchen is more appealing and offers more room for serving, cooking, and entertaining. Nooks and cabinets for small appliances are a good thing.
  • Storage Plenty of it—especially for bulk pantry items.
  • Finishes All-natural. Hastings prefers wood and stone.

Chris Hastings’ Favorite Summer Recipe

Grouper with Tomato, Avocado, and Grilled Vidalia Onions with Basil-Lime Vinaigrette

This dish is all about the vinaigrette. Extra limey and rich from the avocado, it makes a simple summertime dish that will impress any guest. Good olive oil and a lot of freshly picked basil are important, so don’t skimp on these ingredients.

2 large Vidalia onions, each sliced into
1-inch-thick slices (about 5 or 6 slices each)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
2½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided
4 large, ripe Heirloom tomatoes, each cored and sliced into 1-inch-thick slices
4 ripe Haas avocados, halved, peeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2/3 cup chiffonade of fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 (6-ounce) grouper fillets
3 cups fresh arugula

1. Preheat the grill to high heat (400 to 450 degrees).

2. Arrange the onion slices on a baking sheet and brush lightly with the olive oil. Season the onions lightly with 1/2 teaspoon salt and
1/2 teaspoon pepper. Grill the onion slices for 4 to 5 minutes on each side or until tender, sweet, and slightly charred. Transfer the grilled slices to a mixing bowl and separate the rings. Add the tomato and avocado slices to the onion rings and set aside.

3. In a separate bowl whisk together the chopped basil, lime juice, and extra-virgin olive oil. Toss the vinaigrette with the grilled onion mixture, and season the salad with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Allow the salad to marinate at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. (This allows the avocados to break down a little and slightly thicken the vinaigrette.)

4. Season the fish fillets on both sides with the remaining 1½ teaspoons salt and 1½ teaspoons pepper. Place the fillets on the hot grill and cook for 6 to 7 minutes or until the fillets begin to pull away and loosen from the grill rack. Turn and cook an additional 4 to 5 minutes or until the fillets are golden brown and cooked through. Remove the fillets from the heat and keep warm until ready to serve.

5. Arrange 1 marinated tomato slice in the center of each of 6 dinner plates. Using a slotted spoon, place onion and avocado slices on top of the tomatoes. Top each salad with a second marinated tomato slice. Spoon several tablespoons of the vinaigrette over and around each salad. Arrange the grilled grouper fillets on top of each salad. Toss the arugula in the mixing bowl with the remaining vinaigrette. Top each fish fillet with a small mound of the arugula. Serve immediately. Serves 6. 

Bring more of Chef Chris Hastings delicious dishes to your table with The Hot and Hot Fish Club cookbook (Running Press Books), by Chris and his wife, Idie.

The book includes more than 200 recipes, as well as beer and wine pairings and a sourcing guide. It also offers a behind-the-scenes look in the authors’ home and work lives, with details on how the Hastings gather with friends and family around the table.

Produced by Madison A. Jinks • photography by Major Adam Colbert

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