Randy Evans has an exuberant personality that comes through in his cooking at Haven: passionate about local products and seasonal produce, expressive of its Texas roots. There's no mistaking where you are when you're eating at Haven: It's Houston all the way.
Evans's cooking at Haven is also highly influenced by a 10-year stint at grande dame Brennan's of Houston, where he worked alongside and/or mentored some of Houston's greatest modern chefs: Mark Cox, Carl Walker, Mark Holley, Chris Shepherd and more. At Haven, Evans has done more of the same: His previous chef de cuisine, Kevin Naderi, now runs the successful Roost, where you can see the farm-to-table influence of Evans in Naderi's own cooking. And his current chef de cuisine, Jean-Philippe Gaston, is shepherding Cove Cold Bar -- the restaurant-within-a-restaurant tucked inside Haven -- as it becomes one of the best seafood spots in the city.
Along with chefs like Monica Pope of t'afia, Evans and chef Carl Walker set the bar for Houston's feverish farm-to-table scene while at Brennan's in the early 2000s. Robb Walsh recollected in 2008 that they "were at the forefront of the local food movement and tirelessly promoted the products of local farmers, fishermen and ranchers."
That devotion to local fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, honey and more is still on full and lavish display at Haven, which opened in late 2009. There, the menu always touts the best food of the season -- including goodies grown in its own garden -- and Evans is usually on hand with a broad, ruddy grin under his signature shock of red hair and an always-happy "Hello!" delivered in a Texas accent as thick as his cream gravy.
What do you do?
"I am a cook first and foremost," says Evans, who spent five semesters at Baylor University as a biology major before heading back to Houston for culinary school at the Art Institute. "Once you decide that you are no longer a cook you, are just a kitchen manager. I am also the executive chef/co-owner of Haven and Cove Cold Bar."
What do you enjoy most about it?
"I enjoy working alongside young cooks who are hungry for knowledge," says Evans. "I love to teach and pass on skills that I have learned from some great chefs in this city. I also really love working directly with local farmers, ranchers and fisherman, to really get to know them and their products and to use these items to create dishes that reflect our region and our state."
After three years as executive chef at Brennan's, Evans released a now-classic cookbook -- The Kitchen Table -- in 2006, which showcases "Texas-Creole" cuisine and features hundreds of recipes to show off Texas' seasonal bounty. "We should be proud of the products that our state produces," says Evans.
What do you enjoy most about Houston?
"I'm a native, says local boy Evans, "so Houston pride is something I was born with. I love the fact that on any day, any hour, there are some amazing eats in every neighborhood. The people working and living here truly make this a great city."
If not this, then what?
"I would be an architect/designer," says Evans. "I love to work with my hands and create things. I like to see a beginning and an end. I love the satisfaction of watching something start so rough and finish gorgeous...which is a lot like cooking."
If not here, then where?
"I would live somewhere on the water," says Evans. "I grew up skiing and fishing and miss the opportunity now that I am at Haven so much. I would like to retire to a small lake in the Hill Country."
"My plate is pretty full with Haven, Cove and family so I am content with these two ventures," says Evans. "I am biting at the bit for summer produce. I am ready for the season change and all the bounty it brings."
"Our garden here at Haven hasn't looked better, I can just taste the tomatoes now!"
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