This month’s one on one conversation focused on the belief that this is a town worth working for. We paired up uber-fundraiser Tom Cosby with chef Stephen Fressell of Bistro 218 downtown.
After a 35–year career with the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce and its successor organization, the Birmingham Business Alliance, Cosby took on a new challenge in 2013 to restore the vaudeville-era Lyric Theatre to its former place as the premier live performance theater in the city. More than $7 million was raised in a mere nine months under the auspices of Birmingham Landmarks, Inc. (owner of both The Alabama and The Lyric) to restore the theatre to its 1920s-era grandeur. The money will allow the Lyric to stage concerts, plays, weddings, and other civic events, with a grand reopening early next year. The Lyric offers a wider stage and closer audience- better suited for performing arts such as concerts, the symphony, ballet, opera, and theatre. A restored Lyric Theatre could host the 100+ events the Alabama Theatre now turns away annually, creating an economic impact of an additional $5 million dollars a year for Birmingham and as many as 200 construction and permanent jobs. The Lyric was once the finest performing arts theatre in the city and, now, it will be again.
For Cosby, the effort to restore The Lyric was in many ways a culmination of a life’s work of pulling out all the stops for Birmingham. From bringing back Rickwood Field, the nation’s oldest ballpark to Vulcan’s restoration to extending the official Appalachian Trail to Birmingham, Cosby has been the fundraising guru behind all of these efforts, operating with the sure belief that this city deserves the best.
Bistro 218’s new Chef de Cuisine Fressell works alongside executive chef and owner Tom Saab on classic dish preparations with hyper-local produce prepared straight from surrounding farmland. One of Birmingham’s up-and-coming culinary stars, Fressell challenges his Bistro 218 culinary team to lose the trendy “farm-to-table” mentality and cook instead with a “table-to-farmer” mentality—connecting consumers directly with farmers and their crops as a way to develop authentic experiences with food.
“I can taste a vegetable and know what farm it’s from; I can smell the grass of each farmland when I eat their particular produce,” said Fressell. “Bistro 218 is committed to bridging the gap between consumers and their food, really driving home that here in Alabama, we have direct access to some of the richest crops and can think outside of the box when utilizing local produce in each and every one of our dishes.”
As part of Chef Fressell’s commitment to sourcing local ingredients, he partnered with Heron Hollow Farm to develop the Chef In The Garden dinner series, giving consumers a genuine and intimate dining experience by setting up tables on the farmland.