Randy Evans’ dream to own his own restaurant came true about a dozen years after he realized he even had such a dream.
Had the young man studying biology at Baylor University in 1996 not realized he was a lot more excited about newly acquired antique cookbooks than medical books, about hosting dinners over researching in a lab, the acclaimed Chef Randy Evans would probably be Dr. Randy Evans today.
Fortunately for the world of restaurateurs, food lovers and the boatmen, artisans, farmers and ranchers of Texas, his culinary epiphany came in time. Mother Nature is probably happy about the turn of events, too.
As executive chef and co-owner of the green-inspired restaurant Haven at 2502 Algerian Way, Evans has made a mark on the area restaurant community that has had a ripple effect throughout the area.
Chef Evans opened Haven in 2009 saying it was to be a showplace to highlight the great work of farmers, ranchers, boatmen and artisans throughout the state. On its website and on its printed materials, Haven acknowledges nearly 20 small farms, artisan cheese makers, ranches and other small Texas producers of the meats vegetables, herbs, fish and other ingredient needs.
Hands-on might be an understatement in describing the Chef’s own involvement in all of this. He’s no stranger to the idea of driving to the farm or ranch to hand-select what he’s looking for, and he’s almost equally familiar with the front end of a stove as he is with the back end of a produce laden pickup truck.
Chef Evans grew up grew up a constant visitor to his grandfather’s farm near Willis, about an hour north of Houston. He learned early the flavors of produce picked fresh and of the differences of foods made by hand with seasonal ingredients and where the only flavor enhancers were coming firsthand from Mother Nature. It’s his mother whom he credits most with the culinary influences that eventually caused him to exchange doctor scrubs for kitchen apron. From her he especially remembers the pastries – least of which were countless country desserts.
It was only while studying to be a doctor at Baylor University that he realized how much he loved the kitchen. That led him to the Art Institute of Houston and eventually to a starter position at Brennan’s of Houston. After working his way through every station and rank in the kitchen, he was appointed executive chef there in 2003.
While at Brennan’s, Evans completed what he himself describes as a high point in his life, a cookbook, The Kitchen Table (Bright Sky Press, November 2006, $29.95). Receiving the gold medal in the cookbook category at the 11th Annual Independent Publisher Book Awards, The Kitchen Tablefeatures recipes served during 15 years at Brennan’s unique Kitchen Table, a dining opportunity for guests to sit and dine in the middle of its bustling kitchen.
Five semesters of doctor studies were not lost, however. As a Biology major/Chemistry minor, he says today what he learned at Baylor about anatomy of animals and what he took away in terms of the science and the chemistry of food has greatly helped him in the kitchen and in forming the concept that is Haven.
That education as well as a childhood spent appreciating many aspects of rural living also helped form in Evans what is probably the most defining philosophy of his life and career. Now popularly called “green,” to this enterprising chef it is just called preservation.
In introducing a menu best described as “Modern Texas Cuisine,” he did far more than showcase his own kitchen talents at Haven. In dissecting Texas as it is today – perhaps those biology classes are paying off – he put a spotlight on the state’s remarkable diversity of cultural influences in the foods it produces. In plate after plate, dish after dish, he presented Texas food with the many contributions of the state's Vietnamese, Mexican, Acadian, German, Czech and Polish communities.
Here was not just a myriad of choices for lunch, brunch or dinner but a cultural history and geography lesson.
In Randy Evans’ kitchen, steaks are stored near the tofu. Gnocchi gets spooned on one plate while jalapeño sausage stuffing goes on another. The aroma of house-made sauerkraut might hide the more subtle smells of raisin chutney.
And while his menu started many to re-evaluate their definition of Texas food, his search for the right ingredients opened the gates to discovering the state’s amazing resources.
Evans insisted the entire Haven project and the business operation going forward have a minimal impact on the environment. The very structure of the certified green restaurant was built from the ground up to incorporate as many eco-conscious concepts as possible in everything from construction materials and design to everyday operations – such as cisterns to collect the rainwater that waters the garden.
He was responsible for creating and maintaining a sustainable organic garden outside the restaurant where a lot of the produce and herbs used in the kitchen’s acclaimed dishes comes from. He brought in honeybees producing honey in the stacked hive not far from the main entry. Working with a professional beekeeper, the honey is cultivated for flavor by selecting plants in the garden from which the bees will collect their pollen.
It is hard to imagine this multi-tasking, multi-talented, multi-faceted young chef would have any spare time, but it seems he does. Evans works with local philanthropic organizations like Recipe for Success, Urban Harvest, and Texas Foodways, and he currently serves as spokesman and consultant for the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Shrimp Marketing Board and Texas Department of Forestry and Horticulture.