We sat down with Chef Adam Evans, recent James Beard award winner for Best Chef in the South, to find out his favorite restaurants, ingredients, cookbooks and more. What can he tell us about making delicious food? It’s actually quite simple – you just need the right tools, quality ingredients and a passion for your craft.
What is the first thing you learned to cook? Who taught you?
The first thing I learned to cook was when I would make scrambled eggs and put them on white toast, which I’m sure my mom taught me to do. I remember being in third or fourth grade and making that for myself — getting out the eggs, heating the pan, and making it happen. It's still a flavor combination I enjoy, even though I don’t eat that for breakfast regularly!
So how much cooking do you do on your “off hours” at home?
I still do a lot of cooking at home because I enjoy it. And my wife, Suzanne, cooks a lot too. She designed the restaurant and had never worked in a restaurant prior, but quickly adapted and learned the business. She was service-oriented until we had our son, and she now does a lot for the restaurant behind the scenes.
We subscribe to CSAs — Community Supported Agriculture — where you sign up through a farm, and subscribers get a weekly delivery, which helps farmers move their produce. Each farm has its own CSA. We support Belle Meadow Farm and Mountain Sun Farm.
We also set up Birdsong Farmers Market at Automatic Seafood. You can get some great vegetables year-round, from 7 a.m. until noon on Saturday mornings.
What are your must-have ingredients and kitchen gadgets?
For tools — a good rubber spatula that you can use for meat or fish. Also a whisk, a mandolin, stainless steel bowls and a variety of sharp knives. And the right pans. You need a good nonstick pan, a cast iron pan, a roasting pan — which can be steel or cast iron — and a rice pot with a lid. I’m big on having the right tools for the job. It makes cooking easier and better.
For ingredients, I have to have flaky Maldon sea salt. I like high-quality olive oil as well. You can make almost anything taste good with just those two things!
What restaurants around the South (outside of Birmingham) are your personal favorites?
Let’s go by city. Nashville is a great food town; I love Rolf & Daughters and Bastion. Another place I haven’t been yet but really want to go is Locust.
In Charleston, The Ordinary is one of my favorite restaurants. Also FIG. And my friend owns a cool place there called Kwei Fei, at the Pour House on Maybank Highway.
In Atlanta, Craig Richards has a restaurant called Lyla Lily. I haven’t been, but that’ll be the first place I go the next time I’m there. I also love Miller Union and Gun Show.
In New Orleans, there’s La Petite Grocery — I used to work there back in the early aughts, as a line cook; New Orleans is where I first started cooking. Also Domilise’s Po-Boys and Turkey and the Wolf, which is an amazing sandwich place. Plus GW Finns — they do incredible things with fish.
And in Auburn, there’s Acre.
Your favorite beer, wine or cocktail on the local scene in Birmingham?
I love going to Helen and sitting at the bar to see what kind of seasonal cocktails they have. For wine, Avine downtown is hard to beat. Our bar manager, Jose Medina Camacho, who will still be consulting for us, is opening the Adios Margarita Bar. I have no doubt it’ll be the best bar in Birmingham.
What cookbooks do you keep on hand?
I’m constantly looking at cookbooks and ordering new ones, so I always have new cookbooks around to inspire and teach me. But the ones I go back to consistently are “Larousse Gastronomique” — which is like the bible for French cooking — and my other favorite of all time, by an Austrian guy named Josh Niland, called “The Whole Fish Cookbook.” He’s the most creative fish cook on the planet.
Share a life lesson that you learned through being a chef.
Never underestimate people in their ability to learn, understand and grow. Also, watch people who are passionate and who go after what they want — that’s an important lesson for everyone. Figure out what you want and are passionate about, and move forward with that.
How did you feel when you won the James Beard award for Best Chef in the South?
That was, and still is, my most incredible accomplishment. My dream was just to be on the list one day. So to get on the list and make the finals and then win … it was unbelievable when it happened. It means everything to me. And it means a lot to everyone who has put in the hard work.