Name: Chef Chris Hastings
Name of Restaurants: Hot And Hot Fish Club and OvenBird in Birmingham, AL
Restaurant Phone Number: 205-933-5474
Where were you born and raised?
What inspired you to become a chef?
I grew up in a household that put a premium on great food and gathering. My mother was a terrific cook, both of my grandmothers were terrific cooks, meals were a big part of our DNA as a family. I learned at a very young age that delicious food and family gathering is very powerful. It was something that meant a lot to me. Growing up, I was responsible for a lot of it. When we were at the beach, I was the creek boy, meaning I had to go out and cast net the shrimp, gig the Flounder, dig the clams, chip the oysters, catch the fish. So at an early age, I had this connectivity to food of place, food of season, gathering, the power of it, the hope and magic of all that.
Where did you attend culinary school?
Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI.
What other jobs have you worked in the food industry?
I’ve done it all, except for waiting tables. I was a busboy, I was a dishwasher, I’ve bartended, I’ve cooked—pretty much everything except being a waiter.
Who is the most notable person you’ve ever cooked for?
Wow, that’s a long list. Everybody from Julius Irving to Oscar de la Renta to David Letterman. Chris Webber. There’s a lot of people—I’ve probably forgotten most of them. Those are just a few that come to the top of my mind. Jenna Bush came in on her book tour. Condleezza Rice. There’s a bunch.
What’s your favorite seafood dish to serve to your family?
That’s a tough question. We really love seafood, but if I had to pick one favorite family thing that we do around seafood, particularly from October to about April or May, is eat oysters on the half shell. We’re kind of religious about Gulf oysters—we’ve eaten lots of other oysters from around the world, but we don’t really eat those at home. In our home, when we’re gathering, it’s always Gulf oysters. Always, always, always. Right now we’re in love with the Alabama oysters, the farm-raised off-bottom oysters. Those have really blown our minds.
What makes Alabama Gulf Seafood special?
I’ve eaten seafood all over the world, and I feel very lucky to have had those experiences. When I first came to Alabama, I’d never spent any time here. I’m always looking to get away from work and find water and escape from the work of the day, channeling my creek boy days. I was blown away by everything. The flavor of the shrimp, the abundance and deliciousness of the oysters and the fish, and the different types of fish I’d never seen and caught before. I’d never eaten a lot of Mackerel before, Triggerfish was new for me. It was unlike the seafood I’d eaten at a lot of other places. It was a mind-blower for me.
Do you have any pets?
We’ve got an English Setter named Molly, we have a miniature Dachshund named Buttercup, we have a Cockalier named Nigel (I also call him “doofus”—he’s a long-legged, skinny puppy), and we also have a Dachshund/Chihuahua mix named Coco Chanel, a.k.a. Coco. We’re dog people.
If you could cook for any celebrity of historical figure, who would it be?
I’d like to have dinner with Thomas Jefferson. I like the way he rolled. He was a farmer, he was a man of the world, he was passionate about food, he was passionate about wine, he was one of the founding fathers of this country, he was an inventor. I’ve always wanted to cook in his kitchen at Monticello. That’s kind of a dream for me.
If you weren’t a chef, what line of work do you think you’d pursue?
I would probably enjoy being in the sciences, natural sciences. Some relationship with the natural world where I could study it, be in it every day, and find my life’s work outside.