A Master in ‘deceptively simple’
By Franz Scheurer
John Evans was born in Melbourne in 1972. His family, originally from Wales and Scotland, emigrated to Australia but decided to return to Wales when John was a mere 3 years old.
John grew up in Prestatyn a picturesque coastal town flanked by the majestic Snowdonia Ranges. The peaceful little town of today shows little of its violent history. Starting out as a Roman fort and bathhouse, it became the place for King Henry II to build a castle in 1157, which was promptly razed to the ground along with the Norman town surrounding it, by Welsh Prince Owain Gwynedd in 1167. Today it is the gateway to the North Wales coastal area, nestled between sandy beaches and a spectacular hillside; the place where mountain air meets salty sea breezes and an ideal place to bring up kids.
John grew up in a very close-knit family involved in the building trade, all of whom cherished the Sunday ritual of meeting at Nana’s place for a Sunday feast. With all hands on deck John spent a considerable time in Nana’s kitchen, starting with menial chores like peeling potatoes, progressing to baking the Sunday cakes for the large extended family by the tender age of 10.
These earliest cooking memories still bring a smile to John’s face when he talks about the warmth and safety of a large family and the harmless bantering between family members that seemed to be just as much a part of the tradition as the Sunday lunch itself.
John’s earliest aspiration was to become a mountain rescue person, however bad hay fever put an end to his dream. Only when he was about 14 did the idea that he might want to cook for a living start to form in his head, and he entered the local Catering College for a 2 year full-time course for chefing and waiting as soon as he finished school. He worked in the local restaurant a couple of nights a week and spent his weekends travelling around the UK looking at kitchens and restaurants and learning as much as he could.
At this stage Nana was running the kitchen at the local pub in a tiny village nearby, catering for the fifty or so residents. John absolutely loved to watch her work. Her meticulous working habits are what inspired him to look further than the local industry. He gained work experience working for free on his days off at a 1 Michelin star restaurant, Poole Court, in Wharfdale near Leeds, getting his first taste of fine food. Eventually he managed to get a job in Chester, in the Duke of Westminster-owned Grosvenor Hotel. The hotel’s restaurant, ‘The Arkle’, held 1 Michelin star for 14 years, and working in that kitchen taught John the basics and gave him his disdain for culinary shortcuts. Chester, being a town full of the retired wealthy, demanded top class fare. Anton Mosimann was a regular visitor to the kitchen involved in the many charity functions held in the town.
In early 1995 John decided to spend a year travelling around Australia, and as happens so often, never left Sydney. Instead he worked under a pretty radical French chef, Paul Pairet at Mesclun who dispelled John’s illusion of ‘easy going laid back Australian work ethics’ pretty quick smart. Paul was a ‘visual’ chef, using whole fruit and vegetables for effect and opening Johns mind to different ways of displaying food on a plate. Starting as chef de partie at CBD under Luke Mangan a year later he learnt to handle Asian ingredients without compromising the integrity of the Western food he was cooking, something he says many cooks in the UK still don’t know how to do.
John was eventually transferred to est. where he rose to sous chef and then returned to CBD as head chef two years ago.
John’s food is deceptively simple. His menu is extremely approachable and the dishes are choc-a-bloc full of flavour. John’s a master at taking a traditional dish, then stylising it to such an extent that it becomes a new dish in its own right, without ever losing the essence and integrity of the original dish. When I first tried his interpretation of an ‘Irish Stew’ I was blown away by how he captured the essence of the dish but brought it into the 21st century. No other chef whose food I have tasted has this gift to such an extent.
John is not a pursuer of glory. He doesn’t dream of cult status, fame and fortune, but doggedly pursues the ultimate in flavour, presenting honest food that is simple, approachable and seasonal; and he’s very good at it! He loves cooking dishes like Bangalow Pork Rillettes and old-fashioned apple tart. His favourite meal at home is a simple roast dinner and his favourite dish on the menu at present is his ‘Daube of Beef with Mash’, beef cheeks cooked to perfection with a perfect mash to match. Obviously his customers agree as he goes through 30kg or more of beef cheeks in four days. John’s solid, down to earth craft is complimented by the venue, CBD, now open for 10 years, which is one of the few places in Sydney that has always been full, always delivered and always been popular. No doubt John deserves a lot of the credit for the restaurant’s current success.
John’s food, just like the man, convinces with its honesty and substance.
John, you will go far and wherever you cook is where I want to eat!