Wednesday, April 23, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

John Evans cooks up another winner

By
From page B2 | November 18, 2013 | Leave Comment

DSC_8897e

JOHN EVANS is the winner of the Pacific Seafood's fifth annual "Sea to Shining Sea" food show competition. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

Don’t bet against John Evans if there’s food involved.

Recently he was invited to compete in a regional cook-off at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort, as part of Pacific Seafood’s fifth annual “Sea to Shining Sea” food show.

Evans, owner of ZacJacks Bistro in Cameron Park, was pitted against three other chefs for the bragging rights of Top Chef.

On Oct. 8 at high noon the quartet was handed mysterious but identical boxes of six foodstuffs, a few surprising ingredients, two propane burners, two cooking pots and one hour of time.

The winning entrée would have to excel in presentation, taste and creativity. Cleanliness would be an important factor, as disorderly cook stations and messy plating won’t cut it at this level. Plating? The white spaces should appear cleanly between portions, with no tell-tale intrusions onto the perfect bone-China rim.

Three palate-savvy judges awaited.

Similar to the Food Network’s hit show “Chopped”, the event was unforgiving in every food-prep detail imaginable.

Evans knew what to expect. He has been a super performer in high-expectation eateries for 25 years. The wunderkind drew culinary attention in 1989 when he was awarded Server of the Year while working at Spago’s in Los Angeles.

That helped launch his elevation through the world of pedigree food, as owner of successive restaurants and upscale coffee houses in California and Las Vegas.

Unlike many restaurant investors, Evans didn’t spend his time analyzing spread-sheets — he worked the kitchen line.

“I value real kitchen experience,” explained the entrepreneur, who also owns Zachery Jacques specialty foods market and wine tasting room in Placerville. “That’s where the lessons of food are learned,” he said at his bistro, nodding to a table of toasting customers.

“The chef must be equal parts craftsman and artist. Perfection shouldn’t be merely desirable in preparing food, it should be the standard,” he said.

The whole artist-in-the-kitchen thing is out the window.

“You can’t rely on inspiration and experimentation when it’s all on the line,” said Evans.

He explained the sequence of braising, marinating, seasoning, warming and mixing has to be cleverly thought out, much more than you’d do at home where there might be racks of pots and pans, multiple cook tops and yards of prep space.

At the cook-off you have two pots, two burners and precious time.

Noon arrived and the countdown began. The surprise boxes were opened. Opa (Hawaiian seafood) and hanger steak (ask a butcher) were the proteins. Ingredients were unpacked and burners were ignited. Evans immediately saw the fusion of French and Polynesian, both second nature to him. Bring it on.

Technique is important, it’s clean-as-you-go, akin to a juggling act with the right product rotated into the right pan at the right time. Each of the four chefs knew how to cook fish and beef. But preparing Opa requires special knowledge, ditto the hanger steak.

“It’s not theoretical, it experiential,” Evans reflected. “Make one serious error and every other outcome is affected.”

If the potatoes are not fully cooked at the final bell, dump them. If the braised lentils seem hard or cold, don’t serve them. If the Hawaiian Opa fish appears undercooked or the unheralded hanger steak overdone, you may have just made expensive garbage.

If the goat cheese topping on the peeled and precisely cubed butternut squash appears inartfully presented, or any of the uber-culinary guidelines abused, the judges’ points reduce like boiling coconut water in a one-inch sauce pan. Yes, that was another ingredient.

The creamed horseradish, chopped and caramelized sweet onions, carrots, red wine, chicken stock, and chorizo sausage helped make up two sauces for each protein.

The 51-year-old Evans followed his own principles, used the empty box as a trash can, kept the area spotless and finished the job with 15 minutes left on the clock. He conducted endless taste-tests while awaiting the bell.

The three younger competitors did their best but the problematic task was clearly not in line with their backgrounds.

Executive chefs Ryan Curry of Raley’s Field, Frank Gibson of Tamarack Junction Casino in Reno, and Bret Bealte of the Ridge Golf Course, Auburn, watched good naturedly as the judges unanimously and enthusiastically awarded Evans the prestigious blue ribbon.

The next competition will pit the creative and practical chef against winners in other regions, notably San Francisco and Napa. He knows the contest won’t be a cake-walk but when you are John Evans, the finer food world has always been your oyster.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

.

News

Downtown group coordinates painting, awnings

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1

 
More mountain lion sightings reported

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1, 8 Comments

 
Supervisor Nutting trial begins

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1, 102 Comments | Gallery

Sanford murder case to jury

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Herard over the back fence: Try fishing at Wakamatsu

By Bob Billingsley | From Page: B1

Gearing tax questions to correct office saves time

By Treasurer-Tax Collector | From Page: A3

 
.

Opinion

My turn: More than a buzzword

By Special to the Democrat | From Page: A4, 73 Comments

 
Building restored

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

 
Outstanding dog

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

.

Letters

‘Parents, be afraid’ letter

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 53 Comments

 
Ukranian situation

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 5 Comments

Misquote

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 11 Comments

 
Altshuler framing

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 9 Comments

National Day of Prayer

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 7 Comments

 
.

Sports

Pedal power at the forefront next month

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Outside with Charlie: Transitioning

By Charlie Ferris | From Page: A6

Pitching the ‘Root’ cause of Trojans’ victory

By Mike Bush | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Sports Scene: April 22, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A7

Roundup: April 22, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
.

Prospecting

4-H’ers star at showcase

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
At a glance: Look for fireballs

By Mimi Escabar | From Page: B2, 1 Comment

Authors to share their stories

By Pat Lakey | From Page: B2, 2 Comments

 
Church to host human trafficking conference

By Pollock Pines | From Page: B3

Grow For It! Flower of Easter

By Barbara Schuchart | From Page: B5

 
.

Essentials

Crime Log: April 1-3

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

 
Weather stats 4-22-14

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

Building permits 4/7-11/2014

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2, 1 Comment

 
.

Obituaries

Bobby Lloyd Bridges

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Harry Frank Harper

By Contributor | From Page: A2, 6 Comments

Marion “Wayne” Griswold

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
.

Real Estate

.

Comics

New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Flying McCoys

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Tundra

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Horoscope, Thursday, April 24, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Horoscope, Wednesday, April 23, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Working It Out

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Shoe

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Sudoku

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Rubes

By Contributor | From Page: A8