Saturday, July 13, 2013

TOQUE TALK | Alex Hitz

Birthday party for Alex Hitz thrown by Joan Collins. L to R:
Carolina Herrera, Hitz, Wendy Goldberg, Lauren King.
A few days ago in Amagansett, N.Y. I had the pleasure of listening to Alex Hitz, the only guy in the photo at left, talk about his childhood in Atlanta.

That's where he learned to cook from his gourmet-cook mother, Caroline Sauls Hitz Shaw.

Via his mother's father, an Atlanta physician, Hitz inherited a significant interest in the Coca-Cola company. Nearly 15 years ago he sued SunTrust Banks Inc., in Federal court for mismanaging the trust, created in the 1940s by Dr. Sauls. The complaint was that the trust managers refused to diversify out of Coke stock. A co-plaintiff was his half-brother Thomas Shaw, whose father Robert Shaw was formerly director of the Atlanta Symphony.

Neither his Coke connection nor his law suit were mentioned in his talk or in the index to his book. All that seems to be behind him. Hitz has a new book out that combines recipes with nostalgic photos of famous people his family consorted with in his childhood. The picture above is of a party for him held a few years ago by Joan Collins.

His new book is called "My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist," which shows many of the food presentations that are featured in the restaurant he co-owns in Atlanta, The Patio by the River.  Hitz attended Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, where he earned his Toque Blanche, and has combined what he learned about southern cooking growing up with what he learned in culinary school.

Hitz is an engaging and practiced speaker. He knows his slide show–which is essentially composed of photos that appear in his new book–backwards and forwards and has some good jokes. He has a little-boy smile although he is in his mid-40s.

The group I was with, mostly women, loved his style and lined up to buy his $35 book, which was published last year by Knopf.  Looked like 100 copies sold. The 353 pages of recipes and nostalgia are illustrated with mouth-watering pictures of food and the people and homes whose hospitality Hitz either was receiving or was managing.

Little jokes are inserted, as in his slide-show speech (example: James Beard is quoted as saying "A cook who worries about calories is like a tart who looks at her watch."

Hitz had four parting pieces of advice for running a food-centered event. These are not in his book:

1. Don't skimp on anything.
2. Make a schedule and stick to it.
3. Sweat the small stuff before the party. Then smile your way through anything that goes wrong.
4. Don't be pretentious.

This was his first book. I would be amazed if Knopf hasn't got him working on his second.