By the end of the night just one chef was crowned champion and that chef was Katy Evans, Executive Chef of Coldwater Cafe. Both guests and judges, including this writer, awarded her top prize in the event.
While all of the chefs shined that night, Evans, an Urbana native, showcased incredible talent.
She started with a pork dish.
“My ingredients were pork loin, quinoa, zucchini and yellow squash, and red plums. The dish I made I called ‘Pork Toast’ - I dry-brined and roasted the pork low and slow, let it rest to a perfect medium, and thinly sliced it. I then made quinoa focaccia bread,” said Evans. “Here at Coldwater, we are well known for our focaccia. So, I cooked the quinoa, cooled it down and mixed it into our focaccia dough, and then rolled it more quinoa for a nice crunch, and topped it with rosemary and sea salt. I then shredded my zucchini and squash, pressed all the water out, and cooked it with lots of fresh herbs, shallots, and garlic. Cooled it down, whipped some good European butter and folded in brie and zucchini mixture. One of our signature sauces we make is our Hot Pepper Jelly. I cooked the red plums down with some nectarines and made a slightly different kind of hot pepper jelly. I think this one is even better. I toasted the quinoa bread, slathered it with the zucchini butter, piled on the deliciously moist pork, and topped it with red plum hot pepper jelly, and a little locally grown micro arugula. Killer.”
Her words ring true. It was absolutely melt in your mouth delicious, and was without question my favorite thing that I had the pleasure of sampling among many other wonderful dishes that evening.
It was such a reminder to never take restaurants and the talented kitchen staff for granted. Evans had not been on my radar and I hadn’t been in a while to the restaurant she was representing, long a favorite of mine. It’s easy to forget how special a place is when they make it look so easy having been in business since 1994.
Part of the reason I loved this event so much is it took the behind the scenes talent and put a spotlight on the magic they help deliver to tables around the Miami Valley. Evans, the talent in the kitchen, was the star the evening of the Diced Chef’s Challenge. It was a beautiful thing to see on display.
Evans had never heard of Tipp City until she applied for the Sous Chef job 11 years ago at Coldwater Cafe.
She grew up shadowing her mother who had a passion for baking and cooking.
“I always found myself watching the Food Network. I watched Emeril, Iron Chef, and Alton Brown like I was going to be graded on it. At about 16 years old, both my parents were working, and I started taking care of the house more, going to the grocery, and cooking meals. I would go through cookbooks, find recipes and try them out on my family. Looking back, one I distinctly remember was Bruschetta. I was so excited to make it and it took me probably two hours to execute it. It takes me about five minutes now. Every time I make it, I laugh a little to myself,” says Evans.
After she graduated from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh Evans moved to Savannah, Georgia where she learned the art of Southern cuisine, humility, and taking risks with food. From there, she moved on to Philadelphia in a high pressure job at a five-star hotel.
“In 2011 I moved back to Ohio to be closer to my family. I found Coldwater Cafe through an ad on Craigslist, interviewed with Nick Hoover, the owner and then Executive Chef, and was hired the next day. For the next three years, I worked incredibly hard to prove to him that I had ‘it.’ That I could do anything that was asked of me and more. I wanted to prove that although I was a young woman, I had ‘it’ and I did just that. I was promoted to Executive Chef at 25 years old. It was quite an accomplishment. I was beyond proud of myself. I felt that I could breathe a little better that day. However, I knew the job was just starting and it would be harder than anything else I had ever done. But I had never backed down from a challenge and I refused to fail,” Evans says. “Here I am after 11 years with this amazing company, earning awards and winning competitions and I have no plans to slow down.”
Evans “pork toast” wasn’t the end of the evening. The night culminated with a live chefs challenge. After being crowned crowd favorite and judges favorite, Evans faced off against Chef David Drapes of Bernstein’s Fine Catering who took second place for crowd voting. The mystery ingredients were unveiled and the two chefs had a short window to prepare a dish. Both were given bacon, shrimp, and ham glaze as mystery ingredients. It was a first competition of its kind for Evans.
“My inspiration were the corn tortillas I saw in the pantry. Tacos are quick and everyone loves them. When you don’t have a lot of time to think, you go with the first thing you think of, and you make it work. That’s what being a chef is like and running a kitchen. You make fast decisions, and you make it work no matter what. If it doesn’t go as planned, you deal with it later. I quickly pickled some onions and peppers and cooked my shrimp with coconut water and simple spices, made bacon jam with the bacon and ham glaze and drizzled with some garlic chipotle aioli,” Evans recounts. “Let me tell you, that competition was rough. Other than the three mystery ingredients, we were given very few pantry items to work with. You really had to rack your brain to figure out what to make with a very lacking pantry. A chef definitely did not stock it. But, in the end I persevered and won.”
Evans’ shrimp street taco with bacon jam, pickled onions and peppers, and a garlic chipotle aioli was a hit, but it was a close competition with her only winning by one point over Drapes who also brought his A-game.
Coldwater Cafe has a regular menu that changes seasonally. The restaurant will launch its fall menu in October. Throughout the year the restaurant features weekend specials in the form of an appetizer, several entrees and a dessert to keep things exciting. “I like to say we specialize in being different. We don’t stay in one lane or identify with a specific cuisine. We aren’t a steakhouse, and we don’t make strictly seafood. We dare to be different. We feature items like elk, wild boar, antelope, and ostrich, just to name a few. I love making dishes that you wouldn’t normally see in a small town. Some of the best compliments are when people tell you that they would never think to pair some of the things that I do and that they’re blown away after trying them. That makes it all worth it,” said Evans. “I’m currently working on the new menu, and we have some new and exciting things coming out and some fan favorite throwback items, but you’ll have to stop in and find out what they are. I like to surprise people, it’s more fun that way.”
In addition to seasonal menu changes, the restaurant is going through some major physical changes that include expanding the kitchen.
Evans says a big part of her success is Hoover who saw her potential, gave her a chance and never hindered her growth and progress. Her other secret weapon? The talented team at Coldwater Cafe.
“My personal philosophy regarding good food is staying true to myself and not being afraid to be different because I might fail. I’m too stubborn to fail. Being a great fine dining chef in small town America doesn’t mean I should limit myself. I want to break barriers, exceed expectations, and draw more and more people in,” Evans says. “I read a lot of cookbooks. I scour the internet seeing what chefs that I admire are doing. I keep menus from other restaurants that I try while visiting different states. I keep a notebook with me all the time and any time an idea pops into my head I write it down. I visit local grocers like Dorothy Lane Market and Jungle Jim’s a lot for inspiration. I try out new recipes on my husband. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about food and I’ll grab my phone and jot an idea down and go back to sleep. Food is my life. It never stops.”
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