A new story-filled cookbook from famed host and chef Alex Hitz is inspired by many jet-setting Atlantans.
Alex Hitz at the private Boxwood Garden at the Swan House in Atlanta
“The thing to remember is that no one ever died reading an etiquette book,” says Alex Hitz in his signature Southern drawl, as he laments the overall decline of good manners. Perhaps we should hand out his second cookbook, The Art of the Host: Recipes and Rules for Flawless Entertaining ($45, Rizzoli), which comes out in September, to every ill-mannered youth as they enter the real world. Aside from recipes, there’s etiquette and entertaining advice up front in a section called “Always and Never.”
The celebrity chef, named as one of the top hosts in the country and the world, is Atlanta-raised and a longtime Manhattan and Beverly Hills resident. For years, I’ve enjoyed tales of him palling around with celebrities and heads of state. Hitz grew up in a world where glamorous hostesses held court with artists, politicians and business leaders regularly, and many of those stories (pictures too!) are in this epic tome.
I settle in for more of his hilarious-because-it’s-true analysis of the downfall of society. “There’s an art to being a guest. Most people are really rude, and they don’t mean to be,” he starts. “Somehow, saying thank-you has gone out of style. People think being a good guest is to call and tell their host what their food allergies are, or when they can and can’t eat. It’s appalling.”
I’m in stitches. “They should be so lucky as to be invited to a party! The mounting tyranny of addiction that is the cellphone is not helping things,” Hitz adds. “The thing about addictions is... they’re not that much fun at parties.”
The Art of the Host: Recipes and Rules for Flawless Entertaining comes out in September.
But Hitz is, and the new cookbook has soirees top of mind, with recipes divided into 12 curated seasonal menus (“The Absolutely-Perfect Every-Time-Thanksgiving” and “An Easy Sunday Supper to Impress Even YOUR In-Laws” are among chapter names). “I like to think of it as the Rooms To Go of having friends over for dinner,” he says. “Wherever I go, people always want to know what to serve and when to serve what.” Hitz gives me a rundown of his first chapter, called “The Essentials,” which has 29 recipe musts. “There’s the perfect poached salmon with green herb sauce... [flips a page] chicken chili with wild mushrooms and corn sticks... [flips a page] or my personal fave... veal, chicken, fish or Shirt Cardboard Piccata.”
“What’s Shirt Cardboard?” I ask. He replies: “In other words, you could do this to cardboard or a Reebok, and it would still taste good.”
The entire cookbook was photographed in Atlanta. “Atlanta is such a big part of the book, and what’s left of my family is there; all my family stories are there,” Hitz says. “The whole book is an homage to an Atlanta that was. … Unfortunately, the gentility that existed in the world is gone, and Atlanta isn’t isolated in that.” Hitz’s stepfather was symphony conductor Robert Shaw, and his mother was an Atlanta girl who had gone off to school in Europe. She fell in love with European standards and brought that foodie-ism back to the South. “Robert would have Leonard Bernstein, Beverly Sills and Bobby Short perform with the symphony, and, because they were black and Jewish, they couldn’t go to the country club. So, my mother would have them for dinner at our home. She was one of the first to cross the religious, racial and socioeconomic boundaries of the day.” Book signing Oct. 2, Atlanta History Center, 130 W. Paces Ferry Road NW
Photography by: from top: caroline petters; iain bagwell