Adam Evans and Suzanne Humphries Evans already have one big project going: Automatic Seafood and Oysters, their two-year-old, James Beard Award-nominated restaurant in Birmingham. But, this summer, they introduced another collaborative effort: Hank, their newborn baby boy. Which is why, early on in our conversation, he made his presence known as only a newborn can, prompting Adam to joke that “I think Hank has something to say.” (Let’s just say that, for now, Hank’s comments remain off the record.) We talked with them about both projects, what’s keeping them inspired, and what it means to run a modern restaurant in the South in 2021.
The restaurant was a sort of homecoming for the duo — Adam was born in Muscle Shoals, and Suzanne hails from Arab, Alabama. With Automatic, the pair has reinvented what a Southern restaurant can be in the 21st Century, pairing a modern setting and technique with the timelessness of fresh seafood.
Indeed, this quest for innovation has led to Adam’s latest obsession: Making whole fish cooking as respected and renowned as cooking whole hog is. “We’re trying to take that and adapt it to some of the fishermen in the Gulf that we get our fish from, to catch and and harvest the fish so we can kind of bring a better quality of fish to everyone.,” Adam says.
Taken together, the restaurant is a redefinition of Southern hospitality. "You're trying to figure out how to express in a physical environment what he's about," Suzanne says. "His genuine nature of welcoming people runs so deep — I don't know if it's a Southern thing or just a small-town thing or just kind of who he is, and it would have manifested no matter where he grew up. But I have to think after going back to Muscle Shoals, and growing up here myself, that our environment has to have something to do with that inclusive, making-people-happy-through-food-thing."
Judging from the response, and the accolades, the two of them have made plenty of people happy through food, with many more to come.
And now, for our five lightning round questions.
1. What are you reading or listening to at the moment?
S: Baby Mozart. [Laughs.] Actually, you know what we've been listening to, Hank and I? He likes classic rock, and the Beatles in particular can seem to sooth them, which has been a great discovery.
A: I mostly listen to Bob Dylan when I'm listening to music by myself. And reading lots and lots of cookbooks and old fish cookbooks over and over. She’s been reading a lot of baby books as well.
S: I enjoy reading about nutrition and food. We talk about food at home. On our first date, we talked about food. I love it, I think it's fascinating, from a pleasure standpoint and a science viewpoint, and nutrition and all that. We've been reading about infant nutrition, breastfeeding mother nutrition, and then learning about that.
2. What is a principle you try to live by?
A: Moderation. With everything.
S: You're really good at that.
A: I'm learning, but thanks.
S: Mine have changed, and I'm learning which ones to prioritize. When I was more personally career-focused, dedication and diligence and attention to detail were very important. But lately, between everything — including going through a pandemic and just really enjoying each moment and slowing down — slowing down enough to enjoy what's in front of us and what we do have instead of being focused on what we're going to accomplish or what we need to do. I’m not sure it's patience, but patience and just being present, I think, would be two very important principles that I have a lot of work to do on, but I think are a way that I want to live.
3. What is one hidden talent you possess, and one hidden weakness you overcome?
S: Can you think of any for me?
A: That’s what I was thinking: Maybe you can tell me mine and I can tell you yours.
S: I really don't like to fly. As much as I like to travel. I'm really scared of flying. But I’m working on it. Adam told me about a bad flight he had, and he helped me be more aware that I'm not in control after all, so there's really no need to be scared because it's not up to me, so I should just relax and enjoy ball flight.
A: If it's the last one, there's not much you can do about it.
S: Being in that enclosed space 30,000 feet in the air is not my favorite.
A: I don't think I have any. I'm pretty one-dimensional in that regard, I guess.
S: You have to do more than cook, right?
A: Yeah, but I'm not really good at much else. I used to be really good at multitasking, but I'm not anymore. I would say my weaknesses is being a good listener. I try to be a better listener every day. And I learned that I can't listen as well if I'm talking. So, I think, slowing down and listening is something that I'm focused on. It's what I want to do. Doesn't always happen but that would be my weakness.
S: Oh, your swaddling skills! He is like a master swaddler. That's important.
A: There's a few different techniques, but the nurses who did it best [after Hank was born] did it one way, so I adapted their methods, and I can put him to sleep pretty quick.
[Note: After our conversation, Adam followed up via email: "When you asked for Suzanne's hidden talent, I remembered something. She can shuck an oyster! While she might not be the fastest ever, they are all shucked perfectly." Suzanne replied with "🥰😅."]
4. That’s great. How do you each keep your inspiration fueled?
S: That's easy for me. Exercise, outdoors especially — going for a run — and listening to music while doing it.
A: Always being curious is what keeps me going. Trying to figure it out.