Adam Evans describes his Birmingham restaurant Automatic Seafood and Oysters as a seafood house that focuses on the Gulf of Mexico. “We’re fortunate to be so close,” he says. “I want to pay homage to it in the form of really simple, delicious seafood.”
Evans learned his craft cooking in and leading kitchens in New Orleans, New York City, and Atlanta. The chef and his wife, Suzanne, opened Automatic in 2019, quickly earning plaudits including from Esquire, Thrillist, and Southern Living. In May 2020, the James Beard Foundation named Automatic as a finalist for the nation’s best new restaurant (the 2020 and 2021 awards later were suspended due to the coronavirus’ impact on the restaurant industry.)
Adam and Suzanne Evans (Caleb Chancey/Contributed)
Adam and Suzanne, both Alabama natives, also are expecting their first child in August. They don’t know the gender, a decision that the chef has come to embrace. “I fought it for a while,” he says. “[But by] not knowing you get to focus on what you’re doing, bringing a new life in. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl. It’s our baby.”
Chef Evans took time recently to answer a few questions about his restaurant, Alabama’s seafood industry, and being a chef/owner.
How did you get into seafood as a chef?
I grew up not liking seafood. The only thing I would really eat is shrimp. When I went to New Orleans and started cooking, I realized I really did like seafood. In New York I fell in love with it because we got to work with so many different types of fish and seafood and stuff I’d never seen and tasted.
What are some of your favorites and how do you like to prepare them?
It’s always seasonal for me. We got these porgies in the other day and they were really good. The texture worked well with the way we were preparing it, just lightly battered and fried. We got some cobia in today and the meat’s real firm and oily. I want to cure some of that and make it into this crudo dish because we also got some vegetables in that I want to pair it with. The cobia will also be good off of our wood-fired grill, maybe marinated and then grilled. I like to try different things; next spring I won’t want to do the same thing as this spring.
Crudo from Automatic (Caleb Chancey/Contributed)
It seems like one of your guiding principles is simplicity.
A lot of my job is to find the best product. There’s this fisherman who brings me spear-caught fish. This fish is so perfect, you really don’t need to do anything. It doesn’t need sauce. It doesn’t need this and that. Then it comes down to technique. You do have to roast it perfectly to do it justice. I’ve been taught by some really good chefs that simplicity is harder than something that’s intricate. There’s nothing to hide behind.
What is your impression of Alabama’s farmed oysters?
I love the oysters from Alabama. We’ve got the Murder Point guys who have led that charge and are only getting better. They keep producing a consistent, really good farmed oyster product. In my opinion, it’s maybe even more interesting than the East Coast. They’re not just all salt-forward. The Alabama oysters you can taste more of the sea and what’s in the water. Paired alongside a really salty oyster you can taste the difference.
How do you emphasize Alabama-grown products at Automatic?
If I could [call this restaurant] Automatic Seafood, Oysters, and Local Vegetables, I would. I think everybody understands the importance of supporting local farmers, eating local produce, and eating organic produce. I’m just trying to do my part and highlight those things. I just got in some sugar snap peas today from a farm that’s about an hour and a half away. They’re amazing. You can’t get sugar snap peas as good as these, anywhere. Tonight, I’ll just glaze them up in a little butter, chicken stock, and shave some horseradish on top.
Alabama Oysters (Caleb Chancey/Contributed)
What is the difference between being a head chef and being a chef/owner?
(Chuckles ruefully) There are some things that aren’t so much fun, that when you’re just a chef of someone else’s restaurant you don’t necessarily need to worry about. But now those problems are yours. Lucky for me there are great people assisting me. My wife does so much in the restaurant that I don’t have to deal with, and I can just create food and progress the menu. It’s a lot more responsibility. But it’s rewarding in the end.