How do you begin a career running a restaurant that has been hailed as one of the best in Birmingham—and the nation? If you’re Idie Hastings, you study criminal justice and psychology at UAB.
The Cleveland, Ohio, native had intended to pursue a career as a therapist and even began working as a legal assistant, but on the side, she was becoming known for her cooking. Hastings indulged her hobby by hosting small parties and Sunday night dinners for friends and roommates. Before long, she was working part-time in restaurants and facing a choice about her future after she graduated in 1986. “I had two paths,” she says. “I was either going to culinary school and go the food route, or I was going to get my graduate degree in psychology.”
Hastings moved to San Francisco to attend the California Culinary Academy. While there, she worked at Jeremiah Towers’s Stars Café and Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio, and she put her baking skills to the test at Patisserie Francaise. She also met a promising young chef named Chris Hastings, who became her husband.
In February 2012, Chris Hastings (above, left) defeated Bobby Flay in a nationally televised cook-off on the Food Network show "Iron Chef America." "I am very proud of Chris," says his wife, Idie. "Honestly, most of the time the Iron Chef wins. I felt Bobby Flay would be a tough competitor as he is loved by The Food Network and 70 percent of the time he does win. But Chris's focus, knowledge, and his passion for cooking seasonal Southern ingredients made him the winner this time. We are both proud to represent and share this honor with the city of Birmingham and the state of Alabama."
“I felt like we’d be a great team owning a restaurant somewhere,” Idie Hastings says. They got their chance in 1995 when the couple returned to Birmingham and opened the Hot and Hot Fish Club. Idie focuses on managing the office and developing the dessert menu, leaving Chris to the dinner menu and media attention. “I’m married to an extrovert. My husband will talk to a stranger,” she says. “I don’t want to be on TV or the radio like he does. I really love being behind the scenes and doing what I enjoy.”
Hastings also enjoys giving back to the Birmingham community, working with the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Greater Birmingham Humane Society. A dog lover, she is hatching a plan to ensure they eat as well as their owners. “I have another business that I’ve been pondering,” she says. “I’ve often thought about doing a chef-driven dog food.” Her first product is Miss Belle’s Peanut Butter Doggie Biscuits, a favorite among the Hastings dogs—two miniature dachshunds and three English setters.
With all of her culinary and civic success, Hastings says her “greatest accomplishment is being a mother” to two college-age sons. And she continues to think about returning to UAB for the graduate degree in psychology that she once considered.
“My two loves really are pets and psychology,” she says. “If I had any free time, I’d go in one of those directions.”
—Written by Caperton Gillett
Learn more about Hastings's work with the Comprehensive Cancer Center in this feature story from the UAB Comprehensive Cancer magazine.