Ed Evans, the executive chef at Live! Casino & Hotel, likes to say that he cooks the same way Jay-Z raps — freestyle.
“There’s no secret I’m a huge Jay-Z fan, we share the same birthday,” Evans said. “He was known for going into the booth and not writing any of his music down and I’m kind of that way in the kitchen.”
In this case, his ingredients are individual lyrics waiting to be put together. He will be showing off his style of cooking when he appears Tuesday on the Fourth of July-themed episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped.” He often interchanges ingredients to play on classic dishes. In one of his favorite dishes, inspired by the fan favorite “chicken and waffles,” he makes his own version, swapping the chicken for duck.
Although Evans, 45, makes food for a living, he doesn’t consider cooking “work,” and says, “I haven’t worked in 24 years.” He grew up in West Baltimore cooking with his grandmother and enjoyed peeling sweet potatoes and washing collard greens in the kitchen sink with her.
“I think [cooking] was the thing that kept me off the streets and in the house,” he said. “You had to do it, but we made it fun.”
Evans attended Calverton Elementary-Middle School, graduated from Frederick Douglass High School and went straight to the Baltimore International Culinary College.
He acquired experience as a chef in notable Baltimore restaurants, including American Café and the Harbor Court Hotel.
“If you look at cooking as a whole, it’s from your heart and it’s whatever your upbringing has taught you and how you apply that to ingredients,” said Evans, who oversees 10 restaurants on the casino and hotel’s campus.
The chef sees food as a means for travel and a way for people, especially children, to understand cultures that they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.
He stresses the importance of mentoring young kids through food. In June, he took a position on the Anne Arundel County Community Leadership Board, which operates out of the Y of Central Maryland.
“As a Baltimorean from the west side where we are working to open a new family center, Ed’s perspective will be valuable,” board of directors’ chair Tom Brandt said.
When interviewing for his position on the board, he told vice president of operations EJ Amyot about how he brought two rival gangs in his community together with one meal.
Amyot knew that Evans was a good fit for the position the first time that they spoke. He said he could tell that Evans was passionate about giving back to his community.
The chef hopes to continue to use food as a tool to bring people together.
“One of the things I want to make sure that we start to do is to use the power of food to really break down barriers,” Evans said.