Andrew Evans, Barbeque Genius
Former fine dining chef smokes some mighty fine barbeque.
Andrew Evans is that very rare, in fact, unique breed of culinary professional: philosopher/entrepreneur/fine-dining-chef-turned-competition-barbeque champ. He went from being chef/owner of the acclaimed Inn at Easton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to being chef/owner of The BBQ Joint, around the corner and has gained an intense following in his new incarnation, albeit in a somewhat different market.
Born in New York City to a mother who is an excellent cook with a curious mind and a bohemian sense of wanderlust, Evans was exposed to international flavors at an early age. In an era of Wonder Bread, the family ate curries, and traveled way off the beaten tourist path to the lesser known eateries and ethnic dives. “My mom took us to places like Beirut and Damascus, and exposed us to the amazing hospitality of the Arab world,” Andrew notes. Inspired by Billy Budd and Gulliver’s Travels and his mom he took a year off after high school, and worked on a jack-hammer blasting team at a hydropower plant to earn the round-the-world plane ticket that took him to England, Bali, and Australia.
Evans claims to have had a fairly traditional college experience at the University of Virginia. He majored in Far Eastern Religious Studies and held restaurant jobs for pocket money, never thinking of food as a career. After graduation, when, at long last, he landed a ‘real job’, he had an epiphany: No desk job! His “Aha!” moment led Evans to the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating with honors, he headed back to Australia, where he lived and worked and traveled extensively for six years, happily embracing the coastal cuisine of Australia and south east Asia, and eventually gaining joint U.S.-Australian citizenship.
Returning to the States, he was met with the opportunity to acquire a fixer-upper eighteenth-century mansion in the center of historic Easton, Maryland; and before he knew it, he was the opening the doors to his newly revamped restaurant The Inn at Easton. It quickly became a destination showcase for his modern Australian cuisine, drawing from the great bounty of the Chesapeake Bay and local organic farmers and drawing praise from guests and top critics alike such as food critic Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post and the late R.W. “Johnny” Apple of The New York Times who noted, “I could scream [the food] is so good,” in one of his final reviews.
Evans was invited to be a judge of the Jack Daniel’s 2004 World Championship Invitational Barbeque Competition, known to insiders as “The Jack.” He was flown out to Lynchburg, Tennessee, and immersed in the realm of competition-quality barbeque. “Whoa!!” is how he remembers his first encounter with the cooking technique that was to become his obsession. “There are just a handful of ‘culinary goose-bump moments’ in my life, and that was a big one.”
As a newcomer to barbeque, even as an accomplished chef and a certified judge, the barbeque process was still a mystery to Evans. “It’s not exactly a visual activity,” he explains, “it was like walking in to a winery, and saying, ‘Gosh, this is great! How’d you make this wine?!’ To put it another way, many Beatles songs are pretty simple. Try writing one.”
But Evans inherited his mother’s tenacious mind, and doesn’t give up easily, “even in the face of crushing defeats…” he grimaces. “I love a challenge, and it took me a good long time to learn barbeque; I’ve spent seven years perfecting my rubs and sauces. In competitive barbeque, recipes are jealously guarded, and any professed ‘instructions’ are going to be woefully incomplete. And the competition is fierce that appeals to me. Barbeque folks take their barbeque seriously, but they have lots of fun. Unless you’re actually on the Food Network’s Chopped! there’s not a whole lot of active, strenuous competition among fine dining chefs.”
He gently corrects those who mistake “barbeque” for “grilling.” Barbeque, which he asserts is the only truly indigenous American cuisine, is the practice of cooking meats at a low temperature, flavored with smoke. Grilling is cooking meats at high temperatures. “I can’t blame people; I was a CIA-trained chef with ten years’ professional experience before I learned the difference! That’s how pervasive the misunderstanding is to others.”
Evans’ radical mid-career shift from fine dining to barbeque has meant the demise of the elegant Inn, and the rise of The BBQ Joint, a homey red-brick roadside ‘dive’ with sawdust on the floor, where guests eat with their fingers. He also boasts a pig-pink catering van that tows his trusty smoker to catering gigs, as well as competitions. His new life in barbeque also means that Evans no longer works nights, allowing him time to be a full-time dad [single parent] to his two young daughters.
The rubs, sauces, and all-natural meats on the menu at The BBQ Joint are the same he uses on the National Barbeque Competition Circuit where his team, “Walk the Swine,” is gaining notice: most recently being named the 2012 Reserve Grand Champions at Pork In the Park in Salisbury, MD the second largest barbeque competition in the U.S. and achieving highly respectable finishes in such fierce contests as the Smithfield Rib Super Series and the Safeway National Capital BBQ Battle. “It’s a rare thing,” he notes, “for the general public to have this kind of access to this level of barbeque, which is usually only available to fellow competitors.”
Andrew finds the greatest joy in the words of praise from his loyal customers, like the 13-year old girl who chose his rack of ribs as her reward for an A-report card and the American soldier who chose The BBQ Joint for his last meal before deployment to Afghanistan. Fortunately, the lure of delicious barbeque has kept the young student on the honor roll path, and the soldier has safely returned home where he enjoys weekly visits to The BBQ Joint with his wife. With that kind of public following, he asks, “Who needs awards? Who needs food critics?”
Evans acknowledges that he’s not your ‘normal chef.’ “I was a religious studies major. I’m analytical, and philosophical. And I happen to really, really like the food business.” His attitude towards his industry is purely philosophical, naturally: “If you don’t love it, it’s the worst job on the planet, but if you do, you have a blessed life.”
For more information:
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Scott Suchman (Food Photographer)
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Robert Wiedmaier (Chef)
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Bob Sitnick (KCBS Master Judge)
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Chef Andrew’s culinary vision earned The Inn at Easton recognition from Food & Wine magazine, where the restaurant made the top 50 hotel restaurants list in both 2002 and 2003. The Inn’s restaurant also received an excellent review from The Washington Post's food critic Tom Sietsema and was named in the newspaper’s annual “Dining Guide” in 2003/2004/2005/2006/2007 with three stars and selected as an “editor’s pick.” Sietsema also nominated Chef Andrew Evans for the James Beard “Best Mid-Atlantic Chef” for 2004. Chef Evans won the Mid-Atlantic Pork competition in 2003 and the Mid-Atlantic crab cake competition in 2007.
National Geographic Traveler Magazine featured the Inn in their “101 great food and travel experiences issue” and it was featured in Southern Living and Travel & Leisure magazines, among others. In February 2004, the editors of Southern Living selected the Inn at Easton as one of their 10 favorite romantic restaurants in America. The Washingtonian included the Inn in their 2006 top 100 list of restaurants for DC, Maryland and Virginia. In 2007, the Washingtonian ranked The Inn at Easton 16th out of the 100 best restaurants in DC, Maryland and Virginia. Evans was also featured on the cover of the Washingtonian for the 2007 issue of rising star chefs. His most celebrated review came from the late Johnny Apple, who featured the Inn’s restaurant in a full-length article on the front page of the New York Times food section.