For years now, Chef Jim Smith has been serving us well as the Chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission. (And don’t worry, he’s not going anywhere.)
But he did embark on a new adventure this month.
After serving the State of Alabama as the Executive Chef for nearly a decade—and a stint on Bravo’s “Top Chef”—Chef Smith opened his first restaurant, The Hummingbird Way, in Mobile earlier this month. In fact, it’s a familiar location for Port City natives—the space that used to house Kitchen On George.
And if you were wondering, yes, there is lots of fresh Alabama Gulf Seafood on the menu.
We sat down with Chef Smith to discuss the restaurant and what inspired him to pursue a brand new endeavor. Read up about his experience with The Hummingbird Way, then stop by and pay him a visit for a delicious Alabama Seafood dinner!
What inspired you to open your first restaurant?
It has been my dream for a long time to open my own restaurant. I have wanted for years to be able to serve the food I make to the public; working in the Governor’s Mansion has been a pleasure and an amazing opportunity, but you cannot just make a reservation to dine at the Mansion. The restaurant is a space where I can make the food that I love and serve it to anyone who wants to walk in.
How did your experience as the Executive Chef of the State of Alabama help prepare you for opening your own restaurant?
Working for the state really helped me hone my recipes and develop my craft in the kitchen. It was a great way for me to be efficient, since I was the only person in the kitchen and I had to plan and execute in the most streamlined way possible. As an ambassador for Alabama food, it also helped me foster great connections with Alabama fishers, farmers, and businesses.
Tell us about the concept behind The Hummingbird Way.
I wanted to make a restaurant that is very nice but also approachable, one that features the very best in Alabama products. And of course, I really want to feature Alabama seafood; we are serving amazing local oysters, shrimp, crab, and Gulf fish.
What made you choose Mobile for your new restaurant?
As the Chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, I spent a great deal of time on the Bay and at the beaches in Alabama, and I just fell in love with Mobile. I feel like Mobile is on the brink of becoming one of the best food cities in the South, and I am very happy to be a part of that growth. I have been in Mobile for a couple of months now, and it already feels like home. The people are great, the Oakleigh neighborhood has been so welcoming, and everyone I meet is as excited about the restaurant as I am.
How do you plan on incorporating Alabama Gulf Seafood into your menu?
We are utilizing Alabama seafood every day, and in multiple ways. We are getting beautiful shrimp from Graham Shrimp, and oysters and crab from Bon Secour, Fresh Seafood, and Evans Meats. We have already served a great list of Alabama farmed oysters from Navy Cove, Point aux Pin, Turtleback, Sandy Bottom, Grande Butture, and Margaux’s Pearls.
Did your experience on Top Chef add any extra motivation for this endeavor?
Top Chef has been great for my career and a huge help in planning and thinking about the restaurant. Working in the restaurant is the same kind of high-pressure environment I experienced on the show, just without cameras. Top Chef is one of my proudest achievements and I use those memories of the show to help me every day. Having castmates who are some of my best friends has also been a huge help; I like them to be my sounding board for ideas about the restaurant. I was also the winner of The Great American Seafood Cook-Off and became an ambassador for American Sustainable Seafood, and that has helped me with an understanding of the seafood industry as well.
What’s your favorite dish on the new restaurant’s menu?
I really enjoy our Duck and Oyster Gumbo, Alabama Rangoon with Pepper Jelly, the Oyster Casino with Fennel Pollen, and of course all of our Alabama raw oysters.