By Laura McAlister
Jeremy Downey is no stranger to competition.
He played on the 1992 University of Alabama national championship football team, though he admits he wasn’t one of the standout players.
He said his time on the team did prepare him for the pressures of his job today. Jeremy is owner and chef of Bistro V in Vestavia Hills, along with business partner Emily Tuttle.
Jeremy will be one of four competitors in this year’s Iron City Chef set for July 21 at Jefferson State Community College. The newcomer to this year’s Vestavia Rotary Club fundraiser hopes the competitive skills he learned on the field as well as his background will give him a leg up in the contest.
The Bayou LaBatre native said there is a lot of competition when it comes to fine dining in Birmingham, but he hopes Bistro V can stand out in the downtown strip of Vestavia Hills near City Hall, where many eateries are geared to casual, express dining.
“We’re trying to make this a good place for Vestavia,” Jeremy said. “It’s casual upscale dining. We have fresh seasonal food, which you used to have to go downtown to get.
“This is a place you can wear your jeans and T-shirt – just please wear shoes – or you can dress up. It’s open for all.”
Bistro V originally opened seven years ago under the name City Diner. The late Jennifer Claborn was the owner then, and Jeremy had recently moved to Birmingham with his wife to be the chef there. The couple now have two children.
After Jennifer’s death, the restaurant closed. It reopened two years ago under the ownership of Jeremy and Emily.
“We gave it a facelift,” Jeremy said of the interior. “We worked in more seasonal foods, fresh vegetables, seafood.”
Seafood is a staple at Bistro V and in Jeremy’s family. With Snapper Grabbers next door to the bistro, you can bet the fish is fresh at the restaurant. Jeremy said they get all their seafood from Snapper Grabbers, which brings in fresh seafood from the Gulf.
Jeremy serves a fish of the day as well as a risotto of the day.
“I sometimes wake up in the morning thinking about what the fish of the day will be,” he said. “I love it that much. Then a kid or two jumps on my head.”
Growing up in the coastal village of Bayou LaBatre, Jeremy knows his seafood. He said his family often had crawfish boils, and it’s the food he grew up eating that he craves most.
While he learned lots from his father, who was the cook in his family, he also learned while working in college.
Jeremy doesn’t have a degree in cooking, but he has lots of experience.
He said it started with Alabama football.
“There’s a lot of pressure in a restaurant,” he said. “Then I think about football. It took a lot of discipline. We practiced three times a day in the heat.
“I try to think about those days when I’m in the kitchen, and we’re slammed.”
While in Tuscaloosa, he worked at several restaurants. From those experiences, the English major learned his passion wasn’t so much words but food.
He moved to California and worked for a few five-star restaurants there and then went on to Washington, D.C., where he worked at famous restaurants like Vidalia’s and Zaytinya.
“That was a Middle Eastern restaurant,” Jeremy said of the latter. “It seats 400, so when it’s really busy here, I look back at that and think, OK, this isn’t that bad.”
Bistro V seats about 65 and is open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner and Sunday for brunch.
Iron City Chef
Sell-out crowds for the past three Iron City Chef Cook-Offs enjoyed gourmet dishes prepared by the chefs and students at the Jefferson State Culinary and Hospitality Institute, a festive atmosphere and a silent auction featuring fine art and other major items.
An ample wine tasting, featured by Western Supermarkets, is a favorite event of the evening.
When: July 21, 6 p.m.
Where: Jefferson State Culinary and Hospitality Institute Shelby Campus off Valleydale Road by Spain Park High School
Participants: In addition to Bistro V’s Jeremy Downey, also competing are Angela Schmidt with Chef U, Cliff Holt with Little Savannah and Haller Magee with Satterfield’s. Each of the four chefs will prepare an entree and dessert of their choice for about 300 dinner guests, who will vote on their two favorites to meet in the finals.
Proceeds benefit the local Rotary Club District Disaster Relief Fund, the Vestavia Hills math and debate teams and Rotary International’s End Polio Now and Clean Water for the World projects.
Tickets: $55 each. Buy them at www.rotarytoast.org or through a member of the Vestavia Rotary Club or Vestavia Hills debate or math team.
1 link chorizo
1 fish filet, quartered
1 cup cooked rice with saffron threads (save stock)
1 T. corn
1 T. sweet peppers
Chopped garlic and shallots
Salt and pepper
Sauté garlic and shallots, adding chorizo, mussels, shrimp, shrimp and fish. Add saffron stock and a splash of white wine. Then add corn, peppers and fresh herbs. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, covered. Season with fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls over rice and garnish with green onions.