Birmingham’s Highlands pastry chef Dolester Miles subject of documentary film

Birmingham’s Highlands pastry chef Dolester Miles subject of documentary film
Dolester “Dol” Miles is longtime pastry chef for Highlands Bar & Grill, Chez Fonfon, Bottega and Bottega Café in Birmingham, and the subject of a new short documentary film. (Brittany Faush / Alabama NewsCenter)

If Ava Lowrey had her way, there would be no question who would win this year’s Outstanding Pastry Chef in the prestigious James Beard Awards.

That would be Dolester “Dol” Miles, longtime pastry chef for Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill, Chez Fonfon, Bottega and Bottega Café in Birmingham, and the subject of Lowrey’s new short documentary film.

“She really deserves it. She’s been working really hard for so many years, and has such dedication and passion for what she does,” says Lowrey, a native of Alexander City and the Pihakis Foodways documentary filmmaker for the Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Mississippi.

Dol from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Lowrey’s film “Dol” debuted last month at the alliance’s winter symposium in Birmingham, where Miles served a breakfast of golden corncake with strawberry preserves. Miles is a five-time semifinalist and two-time finalist for Beard’s Outstanding Pastry Chef. The James Beard Foundation will announce this year’s finalists March 14 and winners May 7.

“The joy that she has for cooking and for the desserts she makes is just contagious, and you can see that on camera,” Lowrey says. “She was smiling the entire time. You can tell that she loves what she does.”

Miles’ brilliance, Lowrey says, is in taking standard Southern desserts and elevating them. Her favorite is Miles’ pecan coconut cake.

“I’m a sucker for coconut. I also love pecans. It’s a crazy, delicious, mind-blowing combination,” Lowrey says.

Miles in the film talks of being raised near Birmingham in Bessemer, and how both of her parents were great cooks. On Sundays, her mother and her aunts would get together to bake cakes. “And I used to get in the kitchen with them, like ‘hey, let me get in on this, let me lick the spatula,’” Miles says and laughs.

Miles has worked for Stitt since he opened Highlands Bar & Grill in 1982, first making salads and hors d’oeuvres and then persuading him early on to let her make desserts.

“Sometimes I can’t believe it’s been over 30 something years I’ve been here,” Miles says. “It seems like yesterday. They say when you’re having fun, time sure does fly.

“I just feel like this is home, like I can’t see myself working anywhere else,” she says. “Whenever I retire, I want it to be from here. I feel like I’m home.”

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