Award-winning chef Chris Hastings didn’t grow up in the kitchen; he grew up on the shores of South Carolina. This former "creek boy" spent his summers catching redfish and speckled trout.
He’d take his catches back home for his mother to cook and serve, family-style. It was simple. "What you ate was what was put in front of you, and what was put in front of you was what was local and fresh," Hastings said.
"At the time, you thought that’s just how life was. But as an adult, you realize that that was a privilege."
And now, as an adult, Hastings is on a mission to re-create the fresh, authentic flavors he grew up with as a child. Of course, there’s really only one way to do that – by sourcing high-quality, local seafood.
The Gulf area is "a very unique place in the world, with the best seafood in the world," according to Hastings. "You can just taste it. From the minute I put my eyes on and tasted fish from the Gulf, it was a mind-blower... I had no clue that this seafood was so sweet and delicious."
Gulf seafood is just as delicious (if not more) than the fresh flavors he grew up with. It forms the foundation for many of Hastings’s signature recipes, which he keeps simple – putting the spotlight on the pure flavors of his source ingredients rather than muddling them with too many spices or sauces.
The result? In addition to being tasty enough to rack up numerous awards (including 2012 James Beard "Best Chef in the South"), Hastings’s recipes stand out for their positive economic and social impact.
"I can support local producers and fishermen, and they can bring me the highest quality ingredients. They become part of my family, my business," he said. It’s all part of his plan to help build a healthier and better food supply system in America – a project that he said he’s happy to see gaining momentum.
Stop by Hastings’s Birmingham restaurant, Hot and Hot Fish Club, to sample his fresh Gulf creations; or, pick up some fresh Gulf seafood and try out his signature grouper with tomato, avocado, and grilled Vidalia onions recipe at home!