An Alabama Chef Transitioned From Being a Firefighter to...
Alabama ChefAlabama Chef

An Alabama Chef Transitioned From Being a Firefighter to Excelling in the World of Fine Dining.”She’s inspired by my grandmother,” Haak says. “She’s of German descent. Whenever I visit her, she always prepares chicken and dumplings for me. She makes them the old-fashioned way, with large egg noodles and whole pieces of chicken in a delightful broth.”During my recent lunch at CO/OP, I started with their Tobacco Nouche Cake Dip appetizer.

 Smoky and creamy, it’s a chicken salad with a twist. Served with charred lemons – squeeze them, my friends – and toasted old baguette slices. In addition to their tender-skinned chicken, which is not deep-fried, a bucket of complex, earthy chicken jus filled with cornichons is presented on the side. Haak insists on taking the shrimp and grits to a special level.

Alabama Chef Leaving the seasoned pan for the brightness of lemon, the dish’s funky elements, like charred tomatoes, tasso ham, local greens, and caramelized onions, are left behind. A single art installation of red mustard greens garnishes the plate. Located inside the CO/OP building at 800 Monroe St S.W., the restaurant is accessed through a breezy 10-house atrium that leads to a stunning Death Star-like interior.

Alabama Chef Firefighter

Firefighter to Excelling
Incredible Hulk

 Stars like Snoop Dogg and WWE’s “The Incredible Hulk” Hogan have stayed Inside the CO/OP space, the interior is filled with cowhide bar stools and glassware with twisted brown bases. A shelf of jars with pickled peppers, relishes, and white asparagus is there as well. Haak himself jars them. They sometimes find their way into the restaurant’s dishes. As a firefighter, Haak had to cook at home before his cooking gig took off. Both his parents worked. As a latchkey kid, he often had to fend for himself for meals before his parents came home.

High School Memories

“Then, at that point, when I was in secondary school,” he says, “my companions and I were hanging out, and we’d be at somebody’s home, and you’d be ravenous. I’d begin taking. It’s chilly, it’s cold, and set up it. Furthermore, I improved at it.”

Alabama chef, the restaurant has been named a finalist for the 2023 James Beard Awards. For the second consecutive year, HomeWood’s Johnny’s restaurant Alabama chef Timothy Hontzas has been nominated as a finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South. The James Beard Foundation announced its nominees for its 2023 restaurant and chef awards this morning.

Another Birmingham restaurant, Pizza Grace, was a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, an announcement made earlier this year, but it was not included in today’s list of finalists. The 2023 winners will be announced June 5 at the red carpet, a black-tie ceremony at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.

Redefining Traditional Cuisine

Greek and Southern dishes
redefined traditionally

Hontzas, who with his family has redefined traditional Greek and Southern dishes, is among five nominated individuals in his category. This afternoon, “My mantra has always been that we do what we do, and if they accept us, they accept us.” “But we are who we are. We’re not changing.”

 Alabama Chef Hontzas celebrated briefly with his staff when he found out about his nomination shortly before 11 this morning, but he returned to work at Johnny’s for the lunch crowd.“I just called them back into the kitchen, and we gathered together, and I showed them,” he said. “They all started clapping. They are proud to be part of it because I’m not there without them.

An Alabama Chef Recognized as a Finalist for the 2023 James Beard Awards

This year, Hontzas is competing against Lengua Madre’s Ana Castro in New Orleans. The other finalists include Alex Perry and Kumi Omori of Vestige in Ocean Springs, Miss.; Henry Moso of Kabuki Sushi in Orlando; and Natalia Vallejo of Cocina al Fondo in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Hontzas has been a hopeful nominee for the second year in a row. “I know individuals who have been selected seven, eight years, and, poof, they’re no more. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. You never know.”

Pardis Stitt, far left, greets guests during a December 2022 event marking the reopening of Bottega restaurant. The restaurant had been closed for nearly two months for extensive renovations and redecoration of the dining room. (Photo by Kerry Norton: Used with permission from the restaurant group) From Highlands to Bottega, now to States

 Bottega for the Stitts

James Beard
James Beard Awards


Bottega, which is included in the prestigious category of outstanding hospitality, is owned and operated by Birmingham restaurateurs Frank and Pardis Stitt, who are no strangers to the James Beard Awards. Their flagship restaurant, Highlands Bar and Grill, was nominated for the country’s Most Outstanding Restaurant for 10 consecutive years before winning the award in 2018, this is the first time for their Italian restaurant, Bottega.

Frank Stitt said on Tuesday, “It’s kind of humbling.”  “To open Bottega in 1988 and here we are in 2023, and to be a finalist for the James Beard Awards for the best restaurant in America, it’s a very big deal. We’re all very, very excited.

Sibling Rivalry

“In my mind, it’s a bit like sibling rivalry, where Highlands has only achieved a remarkable amount of recognition and press, and Bottega has achieved something as well, but we’ve always felt that the same level of food and the same interesting service and the same hospitality is there. It’s just in a different place.”In addition to Bottega, the finalists in the outstanding hospitality category include Black Cypress in Pullman, Washington; Lola Drake in Washburn, Maine; and Sepia in Chicago.

“We attempt to make the best experience consistently, and it’s tied in with dealing with our visitors, our staff, about stewardship and development of associations with our ranchers,” Forthright Stitt said about Bottega’s assignment. “We have numerous representatives who have been with us for quite a long time, and they strive to share our affection for Italian food and wine.”

He moreover said, “Pardis has driven the house gathering to welcome our guests with style and genuineness and data, and I accept that really isolates us.” “It’s an assurance to making the best bistro experience, from the front of the house to the back of the house.”

 Legacy of Birmingham at the James Beard Awards

Birmingham restaurant legends and James Beard Award winners, from left, Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club, Chris Kozicki of Bright Star, and Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar and Grill, pose for this photo taken before they were honored at the 2010 James Beard Awards. 

Hastings was named the South’s best chef in 2012. Koikos, which relocated in 2019, won the classic award in 2010 for Bright Star. And Stitt was named the best chef in the Southeast in 2001 and the Highlands Bar and Grill was named the best restaurant in America in 2018. (Birmingham News file/Beverly Taylor)

James Beard Awards in Birmingham’s history Renowned chef, cookbook author, and television personality known as the “Dean of American Cookery,” James Beard Awards were first presented in 1991 and quickly became known as the “Oscars of the food world.”

Birmingham’s James Beard Award Winners

  • Birmingham’s past winners of James Beard Awards for former restaurants and chef honorees are:
  • Adam Evans, Automatic Seafood and Oysters, Best Chef, South, 2022.
  •  High countries Tavern and eatery, Most Extraordinary Café, 2018.
  •  Dolester Miles, High Countries Pub and Restaurant, Birmingham, Most Extraordinary Baked Good Gourmet expert, 2018.
  •  Chris Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham, Best Gourmet expert, South, 2012.
  •  Forthright Stitt, High countries Cocktail lounge and restaurant, Best Gourmet specialist, Southeast, 2001. at the hotel.

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