The South still loves a debutante, and Birmingham’s an appropriate place for a presentation of what promises to be one of this year’s most popular cookbooks. Chef Alex Hitz kicks off a national tour of My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist with a Birmingham Botanical Gardens Red Diamond Lecture, luncheon and book signing October 5 during Antiques at the Gardens.
Combining sophistication with a sense of humor, the Atlanta-born Hitz has lived and studied around the world, holding diplomas from Washington and Lee (English), the Sorbonne (French Culture and Civilization), the University of London (theatre) and Le Cordon Bleu (culinary arts).
Known as a consummate host, Hitz markets his Beverly Hills Kitchen line of “luxury, gourmet frozen food” through Home Shopping Network and plans to expand his offerings to include baking mixes, knives, and cookware.
Hitz shared his enthusiastic approach to food and life with Weld:
Weld: Compare Southern and French cooking.
Hitz: Both rely on fresh, fresh, fresh ingredients. In this, France is not dissimilar to Alabama. In general, technique separates the two. Frank Stitt is a master of using indigenous ingredients and French techniques.
Weld: While we’re comparing, advance word is that your book is, like Frank’s, a great read as well as a good cookbook.
Hitz: Frank’s books and mine are part of a new genre in cookbooks. The “literary cookbook/memoir” is full of stories of things and people who have been influences, books that are enjoyed even by people who don’t cook.
Weld: Considering that you’ve tried your hand at a variety of careers, how do you define yourself?
Hitz: Currently a chef/writer. I started out as co-owner of an Atlanta restaurant, but the 27/10 a week, incredibly intense restaurant way of life burned me out on the food business for 18 years. From Atlanta, I moved to New York and proved myself a great success at producing flops on Broadway. I was next drawn to Los Angeles because of the nice weather, and while designing my home there I came back to food. I entertain frequently, and my “customers” are my guests. My house overlooks Beverly Hills and the Pacific Ocean. On the ten days a year that the sun burns through the fog you can see Catalina Island.
Weld: How do you convince your guests in New York and California to sample Southern staples such as grits?
Hitz: By calling grits polenta. In New York and L.A. so many people are neurotic about food issues. I take a “take it or leave it” attitude. Offering too many choices is a sign of an insecure host. People really respond to simple things, to the best ingredients properly prepared.
Tickets for Alex Hitz’s 10:30 a.m. lecture, October 5, are $30 and include admission to Antiques at the Gardens. A $125 ticket includes the lecture and a 12:30 p.m. gourmet luncheon hosted by Hitz and Richard Keith Langham and featuring dishes and tablescapes from the book.
As well as showcasing dealers in antiques, art and jewelry from across the country, this year’s Antiques at the Gardens will feature local “Tastemakers” in architecture, interior design and landscaping. Proceeds from the annual event support educational programs at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Since 2006, the event has raised more than $1.6 million for programs that have enriched over 85,000 area students.
Antiques at the Gardens kicks off with a $150 per ticket Gala in the Gardens preview event from 7 p.m.-midnight on Thursday, October 4. The show is open to the public Friday, October 5 and Saturday, October 6 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, October 7 from 1-5 p.m. General admission tickets are $10. For more information or to order tickets online, visit bbgardens.org/antiques. Learn more about Alex Hitz at www.thebeverlyhillskitchen.com.