After almost 40 years headquartered in New York City, Food & Wine magazine is moving to Birmingham. While the rest of the country goes, “Wha?” everybody in Birmingham nods knowingly. In the event you are a Birmingham initiate, allow me to tell you a story.
In 1982, Chef Frank Stitt III opened Highlands Bar and Grill in the Five Points South neighborhood of Birmingham. Before that, it’s safe to say that Birmingham wasn’t really on the world’s culinary radar. But, before Highlands could happen, Frank traveled the world, apprenticing under world famous chefs and studying the business. The son of a surgeon, Frank grew up in Cullman, Alabama – just a hop, skip, and jump north of here. While studying philosophy at U.C. Berkeley, treatises by food authors like Richard Olney and Elizabeth David led him to his life’s work. And, his life’s work would spawn the life’s work of many other talented folks.
Over the years, those who apprenticed under Frank became culinary artists in their own right and sought to make their mark here in our easy little city. Birmingham quietly became a center of gravity for new ideas in Southern cuisine. First-rate, James Beard-worthy restaurants popped up – Hot and Hot Fish Club, Café Dupont, Ocean, Satterfields, Little Savannah – to name but a few. The list has grown impressively long over the years. In short, Birmingham became a foodie town long before the term foodie even came to be.
Frank Stitt sowed chefs all over Birmingham, but that’s only part of the story. The other part of the story has to do with publishing and dates back to 1886, with the advent of the Progressive Farmer, a weekly newsletter founded by Leonidas Lafayette Polk in North Carolina. Over the years, the little publishing company grew through popularity, mergers, and acquisitions. In 1966, they launched Southern Living, a magazine fashioned after the lifestyle and home life section of the Progressive Farmer that would grow to a circulation of 1.3 million and become one of the top 15 magazines in the country as far as ad revenue was concerned. Over the years, they would add a number of different publications – Cooking Light, Coastal Living, Health, and Sunset, to name but a few.
In 1985, the Southern Progress Company was bought by Time, Inc., the company that currently owns – you probably guessed it – Food & Wine. And now, they’ve moved this seminal publication – a favorite among chefs and insiders of the food industry – to Birmingham. One might argue that they moved Food & Wine to Birmingham because of the incredible test kitchen facilities in the Southern Progress campus. And they’d be partly right. But, those of us who live here, who’ve watched the Birmingham restaurant scene sprout and grow into the flourishing industry it is, know that the real reason is that Birmingham is the very soul of wonderful food and drink, a place Zagat’s calls one of the “26 Hottest Food Cities,” the very epicenter of Southern cuisine.
Read more on AL.com here.