It’s 5:15 a.m. in Birmingham, Alabama, and the Bottega Restaurant and Café kitchen is deserted save for one busy set of hands: those belonging to Dolester Miles. This is the 61-year-old pastry chef’s favorite time in the kitchen—just before dawn, as the morning light begins to pour through the floor-to-ceiling windows just beyond the dining room’s white tablecloths and the café’s Pompeii red walls. “It’s peaceful, and I have a chance to get my thoughts together without worrying about anybody messing with the temperature on my oven,” says Dol, as friends and family lovingly call her. “Because come 8 a.m.,” she says with a laugh, “it’s go time.”
Recently named Outstanding Pastry Chef at the prestigious James Beard Awards in 2018, Dol creates desserts for all three of award-winning restaurateur Frank Stitt’s Birmingham institutions. Located within a mile of each other in the historic Five Points South neighborhood, the restaurants, owned by Frank and his wife, Pardis, include the Italian Bottega Restaurant and Café, the casual French bistro Chez Fonfon, and its next-door neighbor, Highlands Bar & Grill, which won Most Outstanding Restaurant at last year’s James Beard Awards.
The recent fame has been meteoric, but Dol’s journey to national recognition hasn’t been. She’s been honing her pastry prowess for almost 40 years. “Dol’s desserts have a richness blended with comfort and sharp attention to detail,” says Frank. “She creates using great seasonal ingredients and classical tradition with a pinch of creativity.”
Dol began baking before she reached double digits. During her childhood in Bessemer, Alabama, a small town about 15 miles southwest of Birmingham, Dol’s aunt would often stop by to bake with Dol’s mother. “From the first time I baked, I was so enamored by how you can take flour, sugar, and eggs and create something amazing that people will fight over who gets the last bite,” Dol says. They’d make German chocolate cake, lemon meringue pie, and brown sugar pecan pound cake. Dol remembers her mother and aunt always laughing and talking. It was a special time, she says, and probably one of the reasons she feels so at home in the kitchen today.
Dol probably could’ve had a career in whatever she set her mind to (she studied computer science in college), but baking kept drawing her back. One day in 1982, Dol heard that a young chef named Frank Stitt was opening up a new restaurant in Birmingham. From the moment she shook Frank’s hand, Dol knew he was going to change the way Birmingham ate. “He was making food we had never seen before. Even on that first day, I knew I was going to be a part of something special.”