Chef’s legacy inspires menus – Carolyn O’Neil for the (AJC) 04.14.14

indexThe main course at the Edna Lewis Foundation Scholarship Tribute Dinner at Atlanta’s Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts was Cumin and Fennel Spiced Lamb with Fava Bean Succotash with White Pepper and Goat Cheese Ice Cream.

Do you ever wonder where chefs get ideas to create such delicious dishes? It could be just-picked produce at a local farm or a journey to explore exotic ingredients. But more often than not, culinary inspiration comes from collaborating with a talented chef colleague, learning by the side of a supportive mentor or admiring the work of a gifted protegee. Each of those scenarios fit the tribute to late chef Darryl E. Evans, who died of lymphoma at the age of 52 in February.

Darryl Evans was executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotel in 1997.  Tom Catherall, of Here to Serve Restaurants, first hired Evans at the Cherokee Town Club as his apprentice through the American Culinary Federation. “He was a mirror image of me in regards to food,” he says. “Whatever I made, he could make it exactly the same. I didn’t have to worry about the kitchen when Darryl was there.”

Chef Charlie Hatney, of the City Club of Buckhead, was a longtime colleague of Evans: “The main dish includes succotash to reflect his Southern roots, but I used fava beans to show he was trained in the European style.”

Evans held executive chef positions in area kitchens including the Athens Country Club, the Four Seasons Hotel and Villa Christina. He gained national acclaim as one of very few chefs of color to achieve such success, and as the first African-American member of the U.S. Culinary Olympic Team, he brought home four gold medals.

His professionalism went beyond the menu. “He never had an ill word for anyone and was just as supportive of the dishwashers as he was of other chefs,” Hatney says.

The Edna Lewis Foundation, dedicated to honoring African-American culinary heritage, is based in Atlanta. A chef, cookbook author and teacher, Lewis was a champion of Southern cookery. “There was a time when cooks were known only as domestics, you know as the help,” says the foundation chair, chef Joe Randall, of Savannah. “The American Culinary Federation worked hard to get the designation changed to professional status, which is important for the career success of all chefs.”

The contributions of Lewis, Evans and Randall may be getting more attention on a national level. A guest at Sunday’s dinner, Nichole Green with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, says, “We’re curating interviews and information to showcase foodways in an exhibit.” One of the pieces the Smithsonian is working to obtain is a portrait of Hercules, President George Washington’s African-American chef. “It’s in a museum in Spain right now, but we’d like him to return to Washington,” Green says.

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