Life is filled with wonderful things and terrible things. During interviews, however, we pretty much only get to hear about the wonderful things. Ten Things I Hate is a chance for people in the food world to get things off their chest. We ask them what they hate, they give us a list. Next up: Birmingham chef Chris Hastings.
There's no two ways about it: Chris Hastings is a badass. His restaurant, Hot and Hot Fish Club, in Birmingham, AL, is one of the best below the Mason-Dixon line and the big boys of the culinary world have taken notice with awards ranging from Best Chef: South from the James Beard Awards in 2012 to the Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence. He's also written a column for Food Republic, which was quite the read.
Since 1995, Hot and Hot Fish Club has been serving up high-end farm-to-table fare long before it became trendy, and Hastings' ever-changing menu proudly touts its farmer relationships in almost every dish. He may seem like a nice guy in person, but simmering under that charming Southern exterior is a cauldron of
hatred dislike. Before we launch into the 10 things, a caveat from the chef: “I prefer dislike; hate is a very powerful word that I rarely use unless I really mean it and feel true hatred.” Fair enough, Chef. Fair enough. On to the dislike!
- Though it is infrequent, I am always surprised by the way some people treat our front-of-the-house staff.
They work so hard and are completely invested in our guests' happiness. As we know, things happen and life is imperfect. To see how people react in that moment tells you all you need to know about them. Also, these moments are when the old adage "the guest is always right" goes out the window. A few moments of waiting does not give anyone the right to treat our staff in a disrespectful manner. If you have an issue, talk to me. My guess is you will not use that tone, Mr. Paper Lion.
- Chefs/restaurants who refuse – under any circumstance – a request to modify a dish.
Last time I checked, my customers paid the bills, not my ego. I'm happy to toss a salad in just olive oil if you have a chronic illness that is exacerbated by acidity. We do not compromise our "masterpiece" of a salad or our integrity in doing so. Besides, I am from the South and hospitality truly matters.
- I have no tolerance for those who say they hate the term "farm to table."
Those who detest the term have clearly never lived or cooked in places where establishing your own local food network was the only choice. They also fundamentally miss a much larger point and benefit. When we opened Hot and Hot 20 years ago, our local sourcing options were very limited, leaving us with very expensive shipping options from far away places for the best-quality ingredients, which we did. This, however, made little sense environmentally, economically and philosophically, so we began establishing relationships with local high-quality producers. Today, our quality is better than ever, the economics are better than ever and we (and others) have created a ripple effect in our community that has made life in our city much better by inspiring a huge expansion of farmers markets, teaching farms for school children, edible schoolyard programs, CSAs, schoolyard farmers markets, food festivals and, most importantly, healthier food options for more people in Birmingham than ever before. In a time when our nation is food insecure, we are moving our community towards a safer food supply. A few great examples of why this matters: Jones Valley Teaching Farm and Alice Waters: The Fate Of Our Nation Rests On School Lunches. I will finish by saying this; it is always better, before you open your mouth on any subject, to do your homework and understand fully that which you tear down. You will look less foolish.
- There is a special place in hell for those who are disingenuous about their use of, and commitment to, a true farm-to-table philosophy.
I know more pretenders than those truly committed. Restaurants and chefs who half-ass it create the anti-farm-to-table sentiment. I have come to realize that it's the lack of skill, commitment and the search for knowledge about the craftsmanship that it takes to buy, fabricate, utilize and create amazing food with EVERTHING you buy from scratch every day that forces them to perpetrate this fraud. That, I truly hate. Just stop.
- I grow weary of young chefs who lack the long-term commitment to their craft and expect the short road to success.
This might be an unintended consequence of food television, hair mousse, tattoos and chemistry sets I suppose, not entirely sure. What I love most about what we do as chefs is the craftsmanship and the time put into it. The magic that is receiving a heritage breed pig, a fish, fresh milk and vegetables and knowing how to reflect amazing flavors — coppa, blood sausage or prosciutto, a perfect Bouillabaisse, homemade fresh cheese for a ravioli or something as simple as a perfect summer vegetable stew with perfect gnocchi. All of this takes time and commitment to craftsmanship. Pump the brakes, kids, and get focused: overnight success is a 20-year journey.
- I loath pretense.
I have been around too long to suffer though it, to tolerate it and will run like a scalded dog to avoid it. We cook, we serve, we invite people into our lives to enjoy and experience our love of cooking and hospitality. Self-importance has no place in that. I am a cook.
- As a rule, I am not a fan of food festivals.
I do a select few each year but, by and large, I am not a fan. I understand the exposure in exchange for services aspect, especially as a young chef/restaurant owner. However, I feel chefs need to be compensated for their time, like the rest of the world and all food festivals should pay all chefs for their time, as it has a real value to his or her own restaurant and reasonable compensation is only fair. To expect a chef to give you three days; one to travel, one to cook/execute and another to travel home without any compensation of that time committed to your event other than travel expenses and partial or all food cost coverage is frankly disrespectful of one's time and business. If you cannot pay a fee for someone's time then you should not put on that event and should especially not profit from that event. It is high time chefs unite to create a scale that outlines a higher value for their time as other professionals do.
- I hate when the mosquito fog truck runs past our crowded patio on a beautiful summer evening absolutely ruining our guests evening.
Yes, we have petitioned the city. I can only imagine what is in that toxic haze.
- I hate flies in my restaurant.
They have figured out how to fly low under the air curtain, little bastards. We wage war every day in the summer.
- I hate being right all of the time.
More things chefs hate on Food Republic: