Interview with Shoals native Adam Evans, James Beard Awards winner for best chef in the South

Automatic Seafood and Oysters Adam Evans accepting the James Beard Best Chef: South Award. Screenshot from the James Beard Awards Twtter Live broadcast

Earlier this month Shoals native Chef Adam Evans of Automatic Seafood and Oysters joined Alabama’s growing list of James Beard winners when he brought home the medal for Best Chef–South category. 

Check out our interview with the winner. 

About the James Beard Awards

The annual James Beard Awards is often described as the Oscars for the culinary world. 

Evans joined a distinguished group of past Alabama individual winners which include: Highlands Bar & Grill’s Frank Stitt and Dolester Miles and Hot & Hot’s Chris Hastings. Highlands Bar & Grill and Bessemer’s Bright Star have also been honored in the restaurant category.

Interview with Chef Adam Evans

Adam Evans
(Caleb Chauncey)

The day after Evans won the Best Chef honor, he graciously gave an interview with The Bama Buzz. We talked about the honor, his “culinary journey”  and what’s next for him.

Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the 20-minute interview.

Evans’ reaction on hearing the announcement he had won Best Chef in the South category

“I was certainly taken by surprise. It could’ve been anybody out of the group. A lot of great people have been nominated before, so I heard my name and froze for a minute. I remember that moment, hugging my wife Suzanne and thinking ‘I better get up there. It was a surreal moment. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time. To even just make the list and then make the final list and actually be on stage with the metal is unbelievable.”

During the acceptance speech recognizing his wife Suzanne

Owners Chris and Suzanne Evans last year at the future site of Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Lakeview. (Automatic Seafood and Oysters)

“That was a special moment. Somebody afterwards showed me a picture of that (the live feed showed Suzanne standing in the audience). I was really glad that was captured because she means a whole lot to me. She also means a whole lot to the restaurant because she designed it and did all the interior design. She was with me every step of the way. We are a team together. When we opened, she had never worked in the restaurant industry, but she jumped right in. She’s got a natural hospitality sense to her. She designed a beautiful restaurant and is also a great manager of people and a wonderful host to the guests that we have coming. I couldn’t have done it without her. It’s a beautiful moment for us.”

Proud of growing up in the Shoals

Muscle Shoals
(Muscle Shoals/Facebook)

“I spent 18 years growing up in Muscle Shoals and then moved off to college. It wasn’t until I got to New Orleans that I really started to appreciate my hometown. When I was a kid I wanted to move, I wanted to see different things and get out of there and do something else. It was only after I left that I truly appreciated it. I have a sense of pride being from there and a lot of special people in the Shoals were born and raised there. It’s always a special place and there are a lot of great things happening there now.”

Granddad’s garden, Mom teaching him how to love cooking

“Growing up there (Muscle Shoals) was a great experience. I grew up only a few streets over from my grandparents. One of my most memorable experiences was getting to go over to my granddad’s garden and help them tend to the compost and actually make fertilizer for the dirt that we planted the seed in and then see what’s grown. It was always pretty important to me, even as a kid. My mom would cook every night and there were always chores. I grew up with two brothers and none of them wanted to help cook, but I always chose that because I hated washing dishes. I’d always volunteer for cooking, so my mom really taught me that you can express and show love for food in the way you cook and the way you come together at the table.”

Auburn University provided a great education

“It’s (Auburn) a special place to me, I learned a lot there. I actually got into cooking when I was in school there at a local restaurant. It kick-started everything for me, I realized I love kitchens and got a great education. I studied Psychology which I use to this day, and now I think the big story is their culinary center which is about to kick-off, which is a story in itself. It’s a great thing for our state.I think it’ll draw a lot of big talent and a lot of passionate people that’ll get a great education there and go on to do great things in the food industry.”

Learned “kitchen 101” at Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama (Grand Hotel/Facebook)

“I cooked through college…in between my junior and senior year, I moved to Fairhope, Alabama, and I got my first real kitchen job at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama. I worked for a great chef there (Seth Hargett). I didn’t know anything so he was the first one to be patient enough to show me “kitchen 101” while he was running this fine dining restaurant at the hotel there. He’s a great chef and a great friend.”

Support from Birmingham is amazing

Legendary chef and restauranteur Frank Stitt sitting at “Frank’s Table” a sculpture honoring him commissioned by the National MS Society. (Pat Byington/Bham Now)

“I couldn’t do something like this without the support of the community (Birmingham). We very deliberately chose this community because of what was already here and what has been built here. Frank Stitt set up a great restaurant and dining culture. I tell people he’s trained that entire community and city on what good dining and hospitality looks like. In a lot of ways, you’re trying to live up to the expectation of that. I’m so happy we’re here because Birmingham has been everything. The community is amazing. The support we’ve gotten, especially during COVID, was just a beautiful thing because they still came and supported us. They got us through it.”

What makes Automatic Seafood different & his favorite dish right now

Oysters2 Caleb Chancey Photography 1 1
Automatic Seafood and Oysters. (Caleb Chancey )

“We have an evolving menu which does make it difficult at times, but it also allows us to be spontaneous with the food and I really think great things come from that. 

Right now we have a spear fisherman we’re working with directly out of Destin, and spearfishing is a whole thing for me. It’s the quality of the fish and getting it home so pristine. It’s on another level. It’s important to me to source the best fish I can because we’re a seafood restaurant. 

Evans’ Favorite Dish: “Right now we have amazing tomatoes from Bell Meadows Farms, a local farm here and a piece of spear-caught fish, that’s what I want to eat, especially when it’s hot outside.”

What’s next for Chef Evans? 

“I’m excited about what this award means to so many people. It’s a huge platform for me to now do something better and bigger than the restaurant. So that’s what I’m excited about. It’s a great reminder to keep working hard.”

What a journey

Meal at Automatic Seafood and Oysters(Cecilia Wood/Bham Now

Bham Now, the sister publication of The Bama Buzz has been following Evans and  Automatic Seafood and Oysters ever since he started reclaiming the Automatic Sprinkler manufacturing site in the Birmingham Lakeview District beginning in 2018. 

Here is a catalog of stories were published about the James Beard Awards 2022 Best Chef in the South:

Congrats Chef Evans on your well deserved honor. We can’t wait to experience more of your culinary creations in the coming years here in The Magic City and throughout Alabama.

Have you dined at Automatic Seafood and Oysters? Tell us what your experience was like. Tag @thebamabuzz on social media with comments or pics.

Pat Byington
Pat Byington
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