At Home with Chef Randy Evans
Home is where the homegrown tomatoes are...
Longtime Chef Randy Evans grew up just north of Houston and has spent the past 20 years influencing the Houston culinary scene. And from Evans’ perspective, the melting pot of the Gulf Coast culinary scene has influenced him his entire life. From spending time on his grandfather’s farm and watching his mom cook family meals to meeting Chris Shepherd on their first day at the Art Institute of Houston Culinary Program and learning the business under the wings of Brennan’s of Houston fixtures Carl Walker and Mark Holley, Evans has absorbed more flavors than a bowl of his own Spanishinspired sofrito shrimp and grits.
This July, steeped in his Gulf Coast culinary background, Evans and his family are relocating to Boerne as he begins his post at H-E-B’s new culinary center in San Antonio, an opportunity to share is farm-to-table approach with even more Texans. “Houston has defined the way I cook. flat’s something I hope I can bring, the melting pot of Houston. I will miss living within that melting pot, but I am excited to bring East Texas flavors to H-E-B’s other markets like San Antonio and Dallas.
Many Houstonians know Evans’ cuisine best from Haven, which closed last August, but Evans’ creations can currently be enjoyed at H-E-B’s Table 57 (on San Felipe), as well as at other restaurants he has recently consulted with, such as JCI Grill (formerly James Coney Island), Local Pour in the Woodlands and Ocean Grille in Galveston.
Evans explains that his cooking is constantly inspired by produce in his garden or fresh from a farm vendor. “In my cooking I am inspired by that moment of harvesting the produce when you know it’s at its peak,” he says. “The inspiration can be simple, like serving radishes with sea salt and butter—it was such a kick to serve that to my daughter and her Daisy Girl Scout troop.” He says during the bountiful summer months he likes to start with the best crop, the biggest crop, and think of things to do with it. “When I think of summer produce, I immediately think of home-grown tomatoes—which you should never refrigerate,” insists Evans. “Just keep them on the counter or window sill. When they start to get soft just cook them up in a soup or a sauce.”
Evans gets both nostalgic and excited when it comes to peaches. “Oh, man—can’t forget the summer peaches,” says Evans. “We used to drive up towards Dallas to visit my sister a lot. I remember one summer we went up there almost every weekend. And we’d stop at Cooper Farms in Fairfield and buy peaches on the way up there, and on the way back. Of course we’d make cobblers and crisps with the peaches, but they’re also great in a salad with vinaigrette and sliced ham, grilled and topped with a smoky sauce, blended into margaritas—there’s so many things you can do with peaches.”
The summer heat may be harsh at times, but Evans relishes the ease of growing herbs and peppers. “My favorite herb is Mexican mint marigold,” he says. “It tastes like tarragon and has pretty yellow flowers. I also like Thai basil, because you can let it bloom and it doesn’t get bitter. Peppers and herbs are so easy to grow and the produce quite a bit. Of course, I use them fresh as much as possible, but it’s also good to dehydrate them for later.”
Evans says he will have a few things to learn about gardening in Boerne, where his family is moving. “It’s much drier, rocky, lots of deer to deal with,” he says. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to rely on Bob Randall’s book, I will have to find another resource.” For any Houston gardener, noted garden authority Bob Randall’s Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston is a must for successful gardening.
“The way I cook is just straightforward and simple,” says Evans. “Or I take a thematic approach, like a region. During the summer I look to the hot, humid regions similar to ours, such as Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican, Southeast Asia, Provence and Mediterranean cuisines.” Evans describes his version of sofrito—a Spanish sauce that starts with cooking down aromatics in olive oil. “When everything gets soft and tender, I purée it in a blender and add capers, cherry tomatoes, red onion and white wine,” he says. “I like to use this sauce for shrimp and grits. And I have to use grits from Homestead Gristmill.” Evans is partial to products from this 18th-century mill located near Waco.
“My dad worked two jobs, so my mom would have dinner on the table at 5,” says Evans. “She would make roast beef, green beans, squash and mashed potatoes. She would start the roast early in the morning. I remember smelling the beef cooking in the Worcestershire sauce all day.” “I will always love the smell of sauces being made,” he continues. “It really spreads through the whole house and captivates your senses. When the aromatics are cooking, the mirepoix, I love smelling that in the house or even walking past a restaurant.”
“I also won’t forget working with Recipe for Success Foundation, which has been an eye-opening and rewarding experience,” says Evans. “Watching the kids try things for the first time, like their first time to eat broccoli flowers… Now those first kids I taught are graduating high school. It’s great to know you launched that sense of appreciation.”
Sandra Cook is a frequent features contributor to Downtown magazine, and has recently written a series of features for the Houston Museum District Association. She is the former editor of Houston House & Home and the Houston Visitors Guide.