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Jess Edge gets memorable summer experience from Frank Stitt

Oxford’s Jess Edge has had a prime seat at Southern food table for as long as he can remember.

It’s a perk of being the son of noted food authority John T. Edge and artist Blair Hobbs. From the moment he was born in 2001, John T. and Blair strapped Jess on their back and took him along for some tasty morsels to and fro.

Jess and John have taken barbecue road trips together, and Jess has broken bread at the table with many of John T. and Blair’s Southern food friends, who are spread liberally across the Southern states like good pate on toasted sourdough.

“There hasn’t been a moment in my life that wasn’t centered around food and what it means culturally,” says 15-year-old Jess.

So it’s no wonder that the Oxford High School sophomore-to-be has developed quite a taste for all things food, down to a curiosity that wonders if his future may lie in a kitchen.

And that’s where this story gets interesting.

Among John T. and Blair’s good food friends are noted chef and restaurateur Frank Stitt and his wife, Pardis, of Birmingham. Those who follow the contemporary American food movement will know that Frank Stitt is a titan, to say the least.

Stitt sat the South down for a five-star meal long before others dared, by opening Highlands Bar and Grill in the 1980s.

Stitt’s Highlands stands today as one of the premier restaurants in the county, noted by eight consecutive years of James Beard Award nominations for outstanding restaurant. His other Birmingham restaurants, including Bottega and Chez Fon Fon, are Southern classics as well.

Stitt is known for training some of the South’s most accomplished chefs, and to use a football analogy, learning from him is like having learned from Bear Bryant, the late Alabama coach.

Yet, 15-year-old Jess Edge just returned to Oxford after spending a week-long apprenticeship with Stitt and his restaurants. While other 15-year-old’s were snap-chatting and finishing off a final year of summer camp, young Mr. Edge was managing sugar snaps, or something like that.

“My first night on the job I was working in Highlands chopping onions and some other vegetables that I had never heard of,” Jess Edge said.

The idea of a young Edge learning from Stitt is intriguing, especially for those who understand the impact if not influence that both John T. and Frank have on Southern food.

The apprenticeship was Pardis Stitt’s idea in the beginning, apparently. Pardis was talking about Jess and his food interests with Blair and John T. one day and mentioned that their son should come stay with them in the summer, working in the restaurants for a week.

“In the past month or so we planned things out,” Jess said. “Pardis and Frank wanted me to have a good experience around food, so they offered me their guest house to stay in and a week to work in the restaurants.”

Young Mr. Edge has a way with words like his father, so listening to him talk about his week at camp Stitt was a flavorful treat.

“Early in the week Frank and Pardis watched over me,” Jess said. “But by the end of the week I was working with chefs in the restaurants and really getting the feel of what it’s like to be on the front lines.”

His favorite moment came when a group of businessmen from another country filled 17 seats in Bottega, wanting a full run of the menu.

“That’s when I got into the middle of the controlled chaos that happens in the kitchens of great restaurants,” Jess said. “I was making plates and helping the chefs keep up. We executed and the (guests) enjoyed. That’s what it’s all about. I liked having a direct hand in the result.”

So if another Edge emerges on the Southern food scene in the years ahead, we will know how and where it got started.

In the kitchens of Stitt, summer of 2016.

David Magee is Publisher of The Oxford EAGLE. He can be reached at david.magee@oxfordeagle.com.