Monday, May 23, 2011

Lessons from the Hot & Hot

Today I’m having Shrimp and Grits for lunch.  Sometimes, being from Alabama can be a frustrating existence, with its corrupt, Third World government and underfunded, Third World education, but this is not one of those days.  Not when I’ve got a pile of fresh-caught gulf shrimp from Sexton’s Seafood Market sitting on a bed of McEwen & Sons organic white grits smothered in an acidic, creamy recipe written by Chef Chris Hastings of a local top restaurant, The Hot & Hot Fish Club.  Great name, isn’t it?  That man knows his groceries. 

For whatever reason, Birmingham, Alabama ranks with Paris, France for restaurants per capita, and many of ours are, quite simply, amazing (Hot & Hot, Highlands Bar & Grill, Little Savannah). In fact, many of these chefs have released wonderful cookbooks including Southern Table, Bottega, and Hastings’ effort, The Hot & Hot Fish Club Cookbook, which brilliantly divides the book in to seasonally available offerings to encourage the reader to purchase local, fresh, in-season ingredients. 

The funny thing is, Chef Hastings once fired me.  And deservedly so.  I worked as a bartender for him while trying to finish up college, but even when there, I wasn’t always there.  Distractions and stresses of dreaming up and preparing for the next steps of my life blinded me to where I was standing.  With the real world closing in and only holding a fairly useless degree in communications and film productions – in Alabama, for god’s sake – I was blowing in the wind. 

Now look, I wasn’t the best mixologist, but I wasn’t the worst either.  Though, I think I did once, during the blur of finals week, serve room-temperature white wine to a customer. Routinely, we wound up in the local hipster rag, praised with accolades of having one of the best martinis in town.  Infused vodkas, fresh squeezed fruits – we used only the finest ingredients.  My problem was, there were better and far more professional men and women out there, gagging for the job.  Sadly, I saw the position as only a temporary stepping stone to something else, and not as chance to enrich my life experience.  Since I had no intention of bartending for a career in a restaurant where the wait staff was, and still are, career professionals making a fine living for themselves, I got the axe.

Nearly twelve years later, I wish I could go back in time and kick my own ass for not taking advantage of such a rich learning environment.  As it turns out, I love to cook.  But in college, I couldn’t see the big picture.  When you can’t see the big picture, you can’t appreciate where you are.  Things get missed.  Though I still never had aspirations of working in the restaurant business after college, I regret the opportunities missed from learning from one of the best places I’ve ever eaten in all my world travels. 

I think about my experience at the Hot & Hot whenever I catch myself looking forward to the future.  I’m not saying it isn’t okay to dream – of course it is.  But my failure at that restaurant was a product of focusing on the future at the expense of the present.  In the publishing industry, it’s prevalent.  Fueled by dreams of publication, would-be authors often shoot off unedited manuscripts not ready for the light of day.  Agents and editors are buried in these submissions.  Instead, I learned to take my time.  Take a breath.  In whatever I do, I try to be there and give my all to the moment.  You never know when you just might need what that moment can teach you.

Like lunchtime, for instance.


  1. I checked your profile after seeing your comment on Andrew's blog. I was sincerely hoping you'd be writing at that lightsaber blog, but this one looks pretty cool too.

    Anyway, I'm following now, nice ta meet ya!

    And this is an excellent post. Slightly sad, but fully true, and laced with hard earned wisdom. If only I had known then what I know now ...

  2. Yeah, the big picture can really kick you in the ass sometimes. Like - HEY! I know! I'll get married while in college!! Good IDEA!!!! Stupid retrospect.

    In any case, I think being "fueled by dreams" is an excellent way to put it. Dreams are my fuel. And beer. I'm not stylish with the blender and all. :)

  3. Welcome, Matthew! Love your blog, BTW.

    You crack me up as always, Mindy.