By Pardis and Frank Stitt, owners and operators of Highlands Bar & Grill, James Beard Award winner for Best American Restaurant (2018), Bottega, and Chez Fonfon in Birmingham
To walk into the kitchen and no one is trimming vegetables, no one fileting fish, the walk-in is mostly emptied (we made a few days of meals for our restaurant family, our staff). Now Pardis and I feel we would endanger ourselves and our team by the close contact of preparing food, so we wait. We wait until the coast is clear, and we can return to those long days and nights filled with action, with people, decisions, food from farmers we love; dishwashers who have worked with us for decades; captains and servers who are so knowledgeable and graceful you, our guest, might feel like being part of a play—a grand theater.
There is a bit of magic when you enter a good restaurant, one where everything is clicking from the moment you walk in when you are greeted by a welcoming smile, an eye-to-eye glimmer of genuine hospitality.
As you are seated you notice the way the staff glides through the room, acknowledging you and the other staff members. Your server explains the spring menu has strawberries from a favorite Cullman farmer, Trent Boyd; the watercress was foraged from a clear, cold spring; the seafood just came in from Greg Abrams of Panama City, Florida; and the crab claws are a good way to start, and the gigged flounder an option to consider, or the Poulet Rouge chicken, a heritage breed from France but raised in North Carolina—much slower growing but the flavor is unparalleled. You notice a recurring theme: produce from soil that is cared for; varieties of vegetables grown for flavor not the commodity ones that grow fast and are easy to harvest but lack that special flavor—a more difficult and expensive way to farm but produced with care, love and respect.
As the night continues the stage-like feeling grows—there are stories about a particular dish originating from the Southwest of France, but tonight is transformed by our Southern crawfish and Benton’s country ham.
If we are on our game, it’s a bit like watching Hamilton on Broadway from the front row.
But now our team is hurting—unsure of when we will get back to work; worried about bills that are due, coupled with conflicting messages from our government; and all hoping we do not get sick.
Our team is temporarily disbanded and there are tears when we realize how much we miss each other and how much we miss the work we do. This band of individuals who come together to provide a great experience for you, our guests—WE MISS YOU.
Thank you for the kind notes, letters and emails—some of you have contributed to our staff support fund, and we sincerely thank you.
To learn more about what you can do to help support your local independent restaurant community, please go to the Independent Restaurant Coalition website at saverestaurants.com. This is a group of restaurant owners and chefs who mobilized about three weeks ago to help formulate legislation to assist independent restaurants and the more than 10 million industry workers.
Hopefully, we will soon return to the work we love, and hopefully, you will be there with us.
Source: Thanks https://www.al.com/opinion/2020/04/whats-it-like-to-be-a-chef-and-restaurateur-with-no-restaurant.html