Top Chef Houston’s only local contestant Evelyn Garcia prepares for Season 19 premiere and plans new restaurant

Grand Chief: Houston premieres Thursday, March 3, and chef Evelyn García says she’s just as excited as any devout fan to watch what happens in the 19th season of the Bravo reality TV cooking competition.

“Just the experience of being part of Excellent chef is a blessing,” García said. But “to be the only person in Houston – mind blowing.”

Like most people, García, 32, hasn’t seen a single episode – only online clips hinting at what’s to come. And while tight-lipped about the outcome, it’s clear this Houston chief has literally lived this season, putting her years of cooking skills to the test and learning a few things about herself along the way, like, how her baking skills are better – her mental capacity, stronger – than she previously thought. .

“All the chefs I’ve competed with are all heavy hitters, and they’ve done everything in their power to be where they are today, but at the same time, although it’s obviously nerve-wracking – mentally, I was like, I’m here too — breaking my ass,” said García, who will open his own Southeast Asian restaurant in Houston by the end of the year. she was put to the test with “crazy challenges”, the chef said she even impressed herself She owned it, she says.

“You really have to ignore everything and stay there. Sometimes I thought, ‘Wow, how are you not as nervous as you feel right now?’

In addition to being among the chefs nominated for the James Beard Award (and at least one who has worked in what has been billed as the “best restaurant in the world”), being the only Houstonian on the show and competing in her city natal added another layer of pressure to him. performance.

García said she didn’t know the show would be in Houston this season until the producers cast her on the show. While that added pressure to represent her hometown well, “it’s kind of heartwarming to have all of this experience in my city,” she said — and for Houston to get her shine as a diverse food destination.

The show is expected to feature regional dishes and cultural favorites that reflect the city – ranging from barbecue and Tex-Mex to Nigerian, South Asian and Gulf Coast cuisine. Episodes are also expected to take viewers to the Asian Night Market and Freedmen’s Town, the historic neighborhood in Houston’s Fourth Ward that served as a prime colony for African Americans after emancipation.

“I think that’s what excites me the most,” García said. ” See how Excellent chef showcases this amazing city that I obviously love so much, … and for people to really see it and know that it’s so much more than sports and politics.

Chef Evelyn Garcia will bring her expertise in Southeast Asian cuisine to The best chefs 19th season.
David Moire/Bravo

In many ways, García’s upbringing in Houston prepared her for life as a chef.

“It was very natural for me to really fall in love with cooking. I grew up seeing it,” García said.

Born and raised in a Mexican and Salvadoran family, García’s family had roots in the food industry. His paternal grandfather’s family were cheesemakers in El Salvador; his maternal grandmother was a cook; and his maternal grandfather, a baker. Some of his earliest cooking memories involve watching his mother and grandmother make tortillas in their home kitchen – kneading and pressing out the dough, adding water as needed – but that’s the abundant cuisine of South Asia. Southeast Houston who piqued her interest in cooking enough to make it a career.

“It was very common to go for pho and eat vermicelli. My family really enjoys it. They love to cook, and so many things were new to me in terms of technique, flavor and ingredients,” said she declared.

In high school, García decided she was destined for New York, albeit temporarily.

“Everything I was going to build was going to be here in Houston,” she said, noting that her plan after attending Culinary School for America in Hyde Park was to stay in the Big Apple for at least a year to testing the waters and learning as much as she could before returning home.

But as a young woman in New York, “I loved the hustle and bustle. … I was absorbing it all,” she said. One opportunity led to another, and a year became a decade.

While in New York, García worked under chef Anthony Ricco at the now closed Spice Market, Singaporean restaurant Masak under chef Larry Reutens, and with Excellent chef Harold Dieterle, winner of the first season, as the junior sous chef of the now closed Thai restaurant Kin Shop.

In 2014, at just 24 years old, García beat three other contestants in the Food Network’s “All Burger Meal” challenge. Chopped – an experience that felt like a “pat on the back”.

With more confidence in her chef skills, García returned to Houston in 2016 and began hosting pop-ups, taking every opportunity she could get – including catering and a chef residency before moving on. venture with his own project – Kin HTX.

Launching a Southeast Asian food stand in Rice Village’s former food hall, Politan Row, García planned to serve his signature dishes while seeking his brand’s “eternal home.” Then COVID hit, forcing the food hall to close in November 2020. Garcia had to pivot.

“I knew I wanted to work on my own stuff and create my own food,” García said, but the pandemic was the last push. With a growing brand under Kin – as well as friends and customers encouraging her to bottle almost every sauce she made – García said she decided to create her own line of spices and condiments. ‘Southeast Asia in order to win new customers and keep in touch with established customers, she mentioned.

photo of chef Evelyn García in an apron

Chef Evelyn Garcia’s first reality TV cooking competition entry was on Food Network Chopped.
Emily Shur/Bravo

The business has proven to be sustainable, with options to wholesale products to local stores. Now his pop-ups have spread to different farmers markets around town, and García is branching out into new ventures.

With a Grand Chief: Houston season in the books, the chef is also working on Jūn by Kin with chef Henry Lu. The restaurant, which García calls “a love letter to Houston’s Southeast Asian cuisine,” is slated to open later this year.

In the meantime, García is eager to enjoy the moment.

She will see her experience unfold on national television with the rest of the country. On the night of the premiere, she plans to stop by the official office of the Saint Arnold Brewing Company Excellent chef watch the party before seeing the excitement of the first episode at home with his parents and siblings. “It’s good to eliminate the first one,” she said.

But on Friday, she will celebrate.

Kin will host an after-party pop-up at the Stomping Grounds from 6-10 p.m. Friday night, featuring music from a DJ and a mariachi band, an inflatable velcro wall, photo booth, assorted drinks and dishes, and a variety of local vendors. Tickets are available for $15 to $25 on Kin’s website.

The first episode of Top Chef Houston airs March 3 at 7 p.m. CST/8 p.m. EST. In the meantime, you can watch the trailer below.

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