Meet Chef Evan Gastman. Growing up on Long Island, New York and spending the past 20 years living in Florida has inspired everything from his cooking to his outlook on sustainability. He’s the executive chef of four Siesta Key kitchens which include, The Cottage’s seafood-focused global cuisine; The Hub Baja Grill’s tropically inspired beach grub; elegant bar bites at the Beach Club; and, Sarasota inspired surf-and-turf, Summer House.
Let’s take a minute to learn more about this fascinating and culinary mastermind.
Q: What inspired to you become a chef?
I grew up in New York in a Jewish/Italian family where food was very important. My father passed away when I was 12 years old from pancreatic cancer. He was a fighter – doctors initially gave him six months and he lived about a year and a half after he was diagnosed.
Although he passed away when I was young, we shared a love of food. He was always very adamant about letting me try new and interesting foods. One of my earliest memories is when he took me to little Italy and he ordered a prosciutto, arugula and mozzarella sandwich. It was my first time having prosciutto but seeing and trying that sandwich inspired me to be curious and try everything, even if it’s something I’m not used to.
After my dad passed, I realized my mother was not the best cook. She had arthritis and psoriasis, so she was not physically able to make meals for us. Seeing my mother struggle pushed me to step up and cook dinner for the family as a young boy.
One of the last things my father told me was that you need to make sure you love what you do. There are going to be bumps, hurdles and curve balls thrown at you, but if it’s truly something that you love to do, then it’s okay, because you’re going to figure out a way to overcome these challenges.
Q: How did you hear about Niman Ranch?
I’ve been in the business for a long time and frequently heard the name Niman Ranch throughout my career, but the first time I truly got to work with the product was when I met April Quintin, Sales Director for Niman Ranch. After speaking with April and talking with other chefs in Sarasota about Niman Ranch, I tried a couple of sample products. I was roasting some pork and went upstairs to do an interview with a magazine and I accidentally left Niman Ranch pork in the oven 20 minutes too long. I ran downstairs and took it out of the oven and it was STILL juicy and just as flavorful, and I thought to myself, there’s something to be said about this product.
After that, I decided to order Niman Ranch meat and I have always been impressed by the taste and quality. During that time, I also fell in love with the sustainability and the locality of it and the strict guidelines Niman Ranch requires. Let me tell you, those requirements do change the flavor of the meat.
Q: What inspired you to care about sustainability and humanely raised beef, pork, and lamb?
My family moved from New York to Florida when my dad got sick. Seeing the beautiful crystal blue water and sea life being affected by irresponsible humans that do not throw away their trash made me open my eyes and really care about sustainability.
In the culinary world, I know if I spend a little bit of extra money I can learn where the animal is coming from and know that it was not mistreated. However, we have to get more people involved in understanding why this is so important.
Q: What would your last meal on earth be?
It would probably be some sort of a Jewish deli sandwich with pastrami or corned beef or possibly a Niman Ranch brisket and cheesecake for a desert.
Q: What person would you most like to cook for?
My dad. He never got to see me at the level that I’m at now. I would love to cook for him but know it’s not possible. Emeral would be next on my list because I grew up idolizing him.
Q: What is your favorite kitchen equipment or gadget?
I would say a paring knife. It’s universal and you can do a lot with it.
Q: What do you love most about your job as a chef?
I would say connecting with people – both my staff and the customers. One of the things I really like to do with my staff is to ask them what their favorite meal is. When they tell me, I ask them to make it for me and if it passes my test, I tell them we’re going to incorporate it into the following night’s special. By doing this, I create an environment of positivity and let myself learn from my team.
Another thing I like to do is encourage my staff, if they are out and about on their day off or grocery shopping, to grab something that we haven’t ever played with before and bring it in. From the owner to the dishwasher, we’re all throwing something together for the first time, and that in itself is such a cool learning experience. It’s really cool to see all titles go out the window– chef, dishwasher, manager, owner–they don’t matter anymore because we’re all on the same level at that point.
Q: What’s your most embarrassing cooking moment?
I was making key lime pies for a Thanksgiving event and had prepared all 150 pies the night before because I had to be on TV at 4 AM the next morning. I bought the packaged graham cracker crust and forgot to take the plastic off each pie crust. When they went to cut the pies I quickly realized the plastic was melted into the pie…It was definitely the most embarrassing moment.