Culinary artisans who established and helped mature Birmingham’s award-winning restaurant scene are being honored by another of the city’s culinary artisans, as Big Spoon Creamery introduces a series of special ice cream flavors over the next few months.
Co-owners Geri-Martha and Ryan O’Hara, by-products of the kitchen at Bottega restaurant in Birmingham, whipped up the idea for creating the Local Chef Series featuring their peers as a way to celebrate their home town’s restaurateurs.
“It’s a chance for us to collaborate with former colleagues, mentors, just friends in the industry, and highlight their particular approach or philosophy toward food,” Ryan O’Hara says. “And ultimately, I think our guests are the beneficiaries.”
The series premiered in November with a Neapolitan combo honoring Frank Stitt, the multiple James Beard Award-winning chef who put Birmingham on the food map nationally with Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega’s Italian fine-dining restaurant and separate café, and Chez Fonfon bistro.
Ryan cooked in Bottega’s fine dining kitchen. Geri-Martha was a pastry chef there, helping prepare desserts and baked goods for each Stitt restaurant. After founding Big Spoon in 2014 the O’Haras now have locations in Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood, Homewood, and Huntsville.
“We worked for Frank for a long time and have the utmost respect for what he’s done,” Ryan says. “If we didn’t lead it off with him, it would feel like a glaring omission.”
Next up is an ice cream honoring Rob McDaniel, co-owner of Helen in Birmingham and whose experience includes SpringHouse at Lake Martin and Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham. It premieres December 1.
January will feature Adam Evans, co-owner of Automatic Seafood and Oysters in Birmingham, who was named Best Chef South by the Beard Foundation in 2022. February’s chef is John Rolen, Ryan’s former kitchen boss at Bottega and current partner at Slim’s Pizzeria in Mountain Brook’s Crestline Village.
This series will close in March with another former colleague from the O’Haras’ Bottega days, Brian Somershield, who owns El Barrio restaurant.
Stitt says he’s touched by the tribute by two of the many former employees who learned in his kitchens and now run their own.
“We think the world of Ryan and Geri-Martha,” he says. “They are kind of like our children who have gone out on their own. They’re doing a phenomenal, world-class job. So, when Geri-Martha approached me about this I said, ‘Of course.’”
Pardis Stitt, the chef’s wife and business partner, chose the ice cream, citing Neapolitan as a childhood favorite. Frank Stitt is delighted with his namesake confection.
“It’s a fun almost celebratory look, with the pinks and whites and chocolates,” he says, referring to the layers of Valrhona chocolate, vanilla bean, and strawberry in Frank Stitt’s Neapolitan. “It makes you smile. Geri-Martha pulls these pure flavors that are exciting and creative and different. It’s cool in a sort of retro way.”
The rest of Local Chefs Series lineup had not been set before Thanksgiving. The O’Haras plan to brainstorm with each chef, develop and test their concept, and then scale up for the featured month. Batches at Big Spoon normally are 20 quarts; in all, it produced more than 320 quarts of Frank Stitt’s Neapolitan.
Each flavor in the series should uniquely reflect the chef, Ryan says. “It’s their brainchild and we’re the execution part of it.”
A second run of the Local Chefs Series is likely, perhaps including chefs in Huntsville, where Big Spoon opened a downtown location in June.
Ryan estimates he and Geri-Martha have formulated and produced 250 distinct flavors since selling the first scoops from their home driveway on Fourth of July weekend in 2014. Most of the 12 flavors served at Big Spoon shops change every month or two. A month-plus run of special holiday flavors premiered on Black Friday.
The Local Chefs Series is another example of the creativity, diversity, and detailed attention to quality the O’Haras bring to Big Spoon Creamery.
“It pushes us outside our comfort zone because we’re doing things that are not in our normal wheelhouse,” Ryan says. “I think that it’s fun for our guests, too, to try something that we would not have typically done. I’m excited to see where we go with it.”