With a life steeped in the philosophy of eating and the art of creating delicious plant-based fare, Evan Edwards’ love for food has been shaped by his unique life experiences and deep curiosity about the natural world.
But Evan’s introduction to the restaurant industry started with his father.
“My dad is a pizza guy, and for most of my childhood ran a pizzeria that my sister and I spent time at as kids, and eventually worked at for a number of years,” Evan shares in his dissertation, Autotrophy of the Other: On Food and Hospitality, which he completed in 2022 to earn a doctorate of philosophy from DePaul University.
But Evan’s mother’s influence was just as important.
“My mother is from West Virginia, and so in addition to being an inspiration for her unbelievable tenacity, care, and steadiness, I have her to thank for introducing me to all the foods and foodways of the Appalachian mountains,” he writes. “She managed to cook dinner most nights even while working a full time job.”
Evan’s culinary prowess has been honed not only through personal and formal exploration but also via his immersion in the professional cooking world.
His philosophy on the craft was shaped during his time at Taste in Indianapolis and under Chefs Mike Borraccio and Jeremy Paquin at Grove in Grand Rapids, where Evan learned, as he notes in his dissertation, “the importance of organization, technique, care for product, as well as the reality of cooking as not just a business, but a labor, a craft that changes your entire form of life.”
These experiences paved the way for Evan’s current role as the executive chef at Gaia Cafe, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Southwest Michigan, where he celebrates the bounty of Western Michigan farmers and agriculture.
“Once you have a restaurant job on your resume, you never have to worry about getting a job ever again,” he writes in his dissertation. “Once you’re in the industry, you’re a member for life.”
Evan is also active in his community, promoting the interests of hospitality industry wage workers through the Grand Rapids Service Industry Workers Coalition, spearheading the cultivation of local community gardens, and teaching philosophy at esteemed institutions like DePaul and Loyola.
His meals, much like his life, are an emotional journey, connecting diners to the essence of the land and the deep-rooted values of Appalachian ancestral knowledge. Living in the Creston neighborhood of Grand Rapids with his son, River, Evan continues to share his culinary vision and unique perspective on the morality of eating with the community he calls home.
Follow Chef Evan Edwards on Instagram @the_laurentian.