If there is one thing I get teased about above all else, it is the fact that I always wear a sportcoat.
In fact, it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say, that literally not a day goes by without someone remarking on my constant penchant for appearing so encoated.
But to borrow a favorite colloquialism: That’s just the kind of guy what I’m.
Which is why I am now very fond of Chef Frank Stitt.
Mind you, I’ve never met Frank Stitt, but I’m going to very soon, because he’s coming to #RidgeSomms. And that makes me very happy.
It makes me very happy for a great many reasons, not the least of which is that, on his restaurant’s website (the very legendary Highland’s Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama), is the following:
Jackets are preferred for gentlemen.
I am now very fond of Chef Frank Stitt.
As is Dan Buckler.
Dan Buckler is the Third Jewel in the Ridge Vineyards Triple Crown of Regional Sales Managers.
Like Michael Torino, and like Christina Donley, he is a tireless representative for Ridge, and he too travels a a great many miles.
Dan Buckler – Regional Sales Manager (SoCal, KY, TN, AL, MS, LA, TX, AR, MO, KS, OK, NM, AZ, NV, UT, HI)
From Kentucky to Kansas, Utah to Hawaii, L.A. to LA, that’s a full-bore itinerary.
But for Dan, it’s all worth it, in no small part because of something he learned at Chef Frank Stitt’s table.
When I first began preparing for #RidgeSomms, I talked to Dan about his invitees; I wanted to know the backstory behind why these particular individuals had been singled out for invitations. Sure, the bios are amazing, sure the cred is through the roof, but knowing Dan, I knew there had to be personal stories there too. Dan’s like that; a narrative kind of cat.
Here’s what he told me about Frank Stitt:
“I first had dinner at Highland’s in 2002, and Chef Stitt came by the table during the evening. It was a revelation, one of the 2-3 great meals that prompted me to say “I should be selling wine to restaurants instead of shoes to shoe stores”. Highland’s remains one of my favorite restaurants in the USA.”
That’s the Poetry of Buckler; a Carver-esque reconciliation of humility and pride, a Levine-like understanding of work, a Fante-esque sense of one’s own destinies, and a dry Matthews-ian wit.
Dan Buckler is very fond of Chef Frank Stitt.
Consider these degrees of separation (otherwise knows as The Wine Bone Connects To The Kitchen Bone):
Dan Buckler is connected to Frank Stitt.
Frank Stitt is connected to Richard Olney.
Richard Olney is connected to John Olney.
John Olney is connected to Ridge Vineyards.
So OF COURSE Frank Stitt is coming to #RidgeSomms!
How’s it all work? Like this!
1. re: Dan’s connection to Frank, see above.
2. re: Frank’s connection to Richard, dig this from Frank’s official bio:
“…Stitt’s culinary journey began to take shape when he moved to San Francisco and, as a philosophy student, noticed that beloved cookbooks were taking precedence over the works of Plato and Kierkegaard. He honed his kitchen skills at various Bay Area restaurants, including the kitchen of Alice Waters at her now legendary restaurant, Chez Panisse. Waters introduced him to Richard Olney, who at the time was working on the Good Cook series for Time-Life Books and needed an assistant…”
3. re: Richard’s connection to John; John is/was Richard’s nephew.
4. re: John’s connection to Ridge; John is the winemaker at our Lytton Springs estate!
(as an aside, check the following, from Richard’ Olney’s New York Times Obituary: To his great delight, one of Mr. Olney’s nephews, John, went into the wine business in California, working at Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino.)
So really, it’s truly destiny that brings Frank Stitt to Ridge Vineyards for #RidgeSomms.
Frank Stitt is the real deal. Check this:
Chef Frank Stitt
Frank Stitt’s fondness for humble southern ingredients comes directly from his roots in rural Alabama. He grew up in Cullman, a leading agricultural county in north Alabama, where there was a great deal of pride in being a small family farmer. Stitt, from an early age, developed a spiritual connection to food, to the land, and to farming. But there was another side to his childhood: Stitt’s father, like his before him, was the county doctor, and his love of travel exposed young Frank to cosmopolitan cities and leading restaurants. In fact, he was equally at home experiencing some of the great restaurants of New York and New Orleans as he was picking the first tender shoots of asparagus with his Grandmother White in her beloved garden.
Stitt’s culinary journey began to take shape when he moved to San Francisco and, as a philosophy student, noticed that beloved cookbooks were taking precedence over the works of Plato and Kierkegaard. He honed his kitchen skills at various Bay Area restaurants, including the kitchen of Alice Waters at her now legendary restaurant, Chez Panisse. Waters introduced him to Richard Olney, who at the time was working on the Good Cook series for Time-Life Books and needed an assistant. His professional path further evolved as he worked alongside Jeremiah Tower, Stephen Spurrier and Simca Beck. Eventually, travels throughout the French countryside led to work in vineyards in both Provence and Burgundy. Stitt made his way back south, to return to the foods and traditions of his childhood. Today those roots combine with his vast culinary experiences and adventurous spirit to add up to what can be described as a singular, deeply rich, and passionate approach to food. He remains highly committed to the ideals of sustainable agriculture and humane animal husbandry.
Today, Stitt is involved with Slow Food (he and his wife, Pardis, founded the Slow Food chapter in Birmingham in 2006) and is a standing board member of the Jones Valley Urban Farm and Pepper Place Farmer’s Market, both in Birmingham. Recognizing a responsibility to promote sustainable agriculture, Stitt uses produce from area farmers at his restaurants whenever possible. He was one of the first Alabama chefs/restaurateurs to champion sustainable agriculture, and his influence in this area has been noted in his community and beyond.
His flagship restaurant, Highlands Bar and Grill, opened in 1982, and its menu combines simple southern ingredients, such as stone ground grits and country ham, with French sauces and braises. The result is superb, delicately balanced flavors. Highlands was an immediate success, and soon after, he opened Bottega (1988), Café Bottega (1990), and Chez Fonfon (2000)—all in Birmingham.
2004 marked the release of Stitt’s first cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table, Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill (Artisan Books). The Southeastern Booksellers Association named Southern Table the best cookbook of 2005. Stitt’s second cookbook, Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair With Italian Food (also Artisan Books), was released nationally in January 2009. Bottega Favorita showcases Stitt’s love of the Mediterranean and Italy.
In 2011, Chef Stitt was inducted into Esquire magazine’s Restaurant Hall of Fame and the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America”. Highlands Bar and Grill was nominated for the fifth time by the James Beard Foundation in 2013 for the Outstanding Restaurant Award. Stitt received the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2001, and was nominated in 2008 for Outstanding Chef. In 2006, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance and was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2009, the most distinguished award given to an Alabamian. He has appeared on the “Martha Stewart Show”, PBS’s “Chefs A‘Field”, ABC’s “Nightline”, and the CBS “Early Show”. His restaurants are regularly featured in top national and regional outlets such as The New York Times, Men’s Journal, Esquire, Food Arts, Men’s Health, Saveur, Southern Living, Garden & Gun and Newsweek.
Stitt lives in Birmingham with his wife and business partner, Pardis. He has two children, Marie and Weston. The Stitts have a working farm about an hour away from Birmingham, where they raise chickens, gather eggs and grow produce for use in all of their restaurants.
So are we excited to be hosting Frank Stitt for #RidgeSomms?
I’m so excited I’m going to buy a new jacket!
And speaking of new jackets, I wish to note the following: that in my previous incarnation as a professional touring musician, I had the great pleasure of playing a solo gig in Birmingham on one of my last US tours, and when driving into town for the first time, I passed the following:
Being a Watkins, as I am, this was exciting.
But as I was saying, are we excited to be hosting Frank Stitt for #RidgeSomms?
And with that, we invite you to join Frank Stitt, Dan Buckler, and all the other luminaries that make up the cast of #RidgeSomms, for an extraordinary two days of all things Ridge, and wine, and food, and Ridge!
Ridge Vineyards Sommelier Symposium, 2013
May 20th & 21st, 2013
Just filter for #RidgeSomms, and you’re IN!
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