Top Chef’s 19th season premieres on Thursday, March 3, broadcasting Houston — one of the most diverse culinary scenes in the country — to millions of viewers and chefs. But out of the 15 “cheftestants,” only one hails from Houston. Here are eight fast facts about Top Chef: Houston’s lone local chef, Evelyn García, and some reasons why she just might be this season’s top contender.
Evelyn García was born and raised in Houston.
The Houston native, whose parents are from Mexico and El Salvador, specializes in Southeast Asian cuisine.
After working in New York for 10 years, she returned to her hometown to host pop-ups and eventually create her own food company.
She’s the co-owner and chef behind Kin HTX, which offers catering and a Southeast Asian product line of spices and condiments.
García opened Kin HTX in Rice Village’s food hall Politan Row in 2019, in hopes of dishing out Southeast Asian cuisine to locals and visitors alike. But after the food hall abruptly closed in November 2020 due to COVID-19 mandatory shutdowns, Garcia had to pivot.
That December, García announced she was transitioning from serving up Thai food to catering and selling her line of Southeast Asian-inspired condiments and spice rubs at locations throughout Houston, including Local Foods, Henderson & Kane, and the Urban Harvest Farmer’s Market.
Kin still offers events and pop-ups, including a “Pupusa Lab” at M-K-T Sunset Market and brisket buns at the Heights Mercantile Farmers Market. Kin’s upcoming six-course Valentine’s Day dinner, crafted by chef Henry Lu and García, herself, is already sold out.
It appears another restaurant by García is on the way.
Top Chef Houston won’t be García’s first time competing in a TV food competition.
In 2014, García was named a “Chopped Champion” after beating out three fellow contestants in the “All Burger Meal” challenge on Food Network’s Chopped.
“Right when we started filming, they said there was a spin on it, and all three courses had to be burgers. I said, ‘Oh that’s great. I don’t do burgers, I’m doing Thai food.’ But I just laughed it off and said, ‘Here it goes,’” García told Chron in a 2014 interview. “People ask me how I came up with stuff, and I honestly don’t know. I just see the ingredients and go with them.”
During the first round of the “All Burger Meal” challenge, García transformed veal shoulder, bean sprouts, marsala wine, and veal tongue into a veal burger with habanero lime sauce using panko, radicchio, and creme fraiche.
In the entree round, García used the whole brisket, short ribs, pickle juice popsicles, and quail eggs she was given to create a 50/50 burger with quail egg aioli using turmeric, fish sauce, and coconut milk. And in the dessert round, García won the judges over by combining hamburger buns, chocolate peanut clusters, shaved coconut, and sesame seeds to craft a coconut ice cream and French toast burger using vanilla bean, mint, and blueberries.
“When they first told me I was the winner, I was freaking out inside. I was in shock and I didn’t even move,” said García, who pocketed the $10,000 prize and the winning title. “They had to shoot another take so I would seem more excited on camera. I just threw my hands in the air.”
García’s passion for food started at a young age and has since taken her around the world.
García, who graduated from Cypress Ridge High School, was a member of the Cy-Fair Culinary Academy during her senior year, and there, learned how to make dishes outside of the Mexican and Salvadorian cuisine she knew well, Chron reported.
She took her interest in food seriously — earning her associate’s degree in culinary arts and her bachelor’s degree in hospitality management at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park while balancing her part-time chef’s assistant position at the school and catering jobs she took on the side to earn extra money.
Her interest in Southeast Asian cuisine has led her to do first-hand research. According to VoyageHouston. Garcia traveled to India in 2011 and hopped around Southeast Asia in 2014 to stage at some of the best restaurants in Thailand.
García kickstarted her chef career in New York.
García spent a year working under chef Anthony Ricco at the now-closed Spice Market, a Southeast Asian restaurant in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan that could serve up to 350 people, before opting for a smaller scene at the city’s open-kitchen Singaporean restaurant, Masak under chef Larry Reutens.
She later worked with Top Chef season one winner Harold Dieterle as a junior sous chef at New York’s modern Thai restaurant Kin Shop, which is closed, before returning to Houston.
Though García’s expertise lies largely in Southeast Asian cuisine, she can cook other things — and well.
The chef has noted that her Latina heritage brought her back to Houston, where she has hosted pop-up dinners and events at restaurants and farmers markets — while also teaching others how to make dishes including El Salvadorian pupusas.
Here’s García showcasing a family recipe on Houston Life:
Expect her to get emotional this season on Top Chef.
Top Chef’s initial promo, including press shots, offers several glimpses of García, which could lead one to believe, that at least in the first episode, García could be owning the competition. But García seems to also feel the weight of the challenge. In one clip, García apologizes for her tears, noting that she’s “very emotional,” while in another, she throws her hands up to the “Brisket Gods.”
- Latest Season of ‘Top Chef’ Set to Premiere March 3 — and It’s About to Get Very Houston
- After Politan Row’s Shutter, Chef Keisha Griggs’s Caribbean Cuisine Makes a Comeback
- Cypress Ridge graduate-turned-chef celebrates Chopped victory [Chron.com]
- Meet Evelyn Garcia of Pop Up’s by Chef Evelyn [VoyageHouston]
- Evelyn Garcia’s biography on Bravo TV [Bravo]