With his devotion to seasonal cooking, it's no wonder that Thanksgiving is award-winning southern chef Frank Stitt's favorite holiday.
"Thanksgiving is all about celebrating the harvest and showing a sense of respect for the harvest, for the food that sustains us," he said in an interview with FoodFit. "It's all about being at table and celebrating being alive via sharing food. It's the greatest."
For many years, the chef has hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for "wayward children," the people at his restaurant, the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, who don't have immediate family. Everyone pitches in to make the meal.
"It gives us a chance to get to know people other than just being at work, to drink lots of good wine and have lots of great food," Stitt explained.
Thanksgiving is centered on tradition, and the chef recalled some signature dishes that he grew up with. "My mother always brought out a relish tray with crudités and with pickled okra and pickled beets, and there were always spiced pecans and something with sweet potatoes and usually cornbread stuffing."
In his book, Frank Stitt's Southern Table, the chef shares his unique culinary style of classic southern dishes cooked with French finesse.
Stitt relies on local farmers, nearby fishermen and other area purveyors for his ingredients. He believes chefs should have personal relationships with growers and encourage them to produce different fruits and vegetables for flavor rather than just ease. Home cooks can build similar relationships by frequenting the farmer's market or buying seasonal shares in a farm. Finally, Stitt says people need to be prepared to pay a little bit more for good food.
Some of the chef's favorites among autumn's bounty are figs, pears, beets, pumpkins, hubbard squash, butternut squash, pecans and walnuts.
"I think that late-summer to early-autumn figs are some of the most luscious, sexy, ancient and evocative of foods. And I feel the same way about pears. As plain as it sounds, to have a perfect Comice pear is just one of the great eating experiences," Stitt said.
Make fabulous food from superstar Chef Frank Stitt’s book:
Butternut Squash and Dried Fig Risotto
Ham and Pumpkin Pirlau
Glazed Autumn Vegetables