Chef Kurt Evans is a born and bred Philadelphian. He developed his love for food and cooking at a young age through shared experiences with his family.
Evans took his craft seriously and worked his way up in the industry. While working as an executive chef in a Southern-style restaurant in Philly, Evans was inspired to use his Instagram platform to amplify the issue of mass incarceration in the Black community.
In 2018, Evans started the End Mass Incarceration (EMI) dinner series, which aims to bring people together to spark conversation around mass incarceration over dinner.
We spoke with the chef and activist about how his hometown sparked his love for cooking, how his End Mass Incarceration dinner series came about, and the must-see places in Philly.
Being born and raised in Philly, how has the city influenced you in your current career as a chef?
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Being born in Philly influenced my culinary career tremendously. There’s no shortage of well-known and celebrated chefs #MadeInPhilly, such as James Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s chef who made several contributions to modern-day cooking; Robert Bogle, a prominent Black caterer in South Philly; the Bynum brothers, and many more. This rich culinary history shaped the way I view Black cuisine.
What was your experience with cooking and food like growing up? Were you exposed to various dishes from around the world?
My childhood experiences with food were very special and centered around family. I remember cooking with my grandmother and hunting and fishing with my father, both of which gave me my love for cooking. Most of my experiences with various foods came from my late teens working in the kitchen with diverse staff. They would share their culture through cuisines during staff meals, which opened my eyes to so many different levels of food.
Can you tell us about the End Mass Incarceration dining series? How did that initiative come about, and what inspired it?
The EMI Dinner Series aims to foster dialogue among people impacted by mass incarceration, community members, policymakers, and non-profit organizations working at the various intersections of this critical phenomenon. This initiative was inspired by Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which I read in 2013. But at the time, I saw the documentary 13th, followed by the Kalief Browder story that made me want to use food as a vehicle to tell the stories of mass incarceration.
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What are some things most people don't know about the culinary scene in Philly?
Philly has one of the best culinary scenes in America. Some of the best chefs and restaurants call Philly home, and that’s something I’m incredibly proud to say I’m a part of that community. True to our roots of being the country’s birthplace, we’ve become a melting pot of cuisines, and we have chefs pushing the boundaries on how to define our local cuisine. It’s an exciting time.
What are three things in Philly everyone must do/see when there?
Find out more about the diverse dining scene in Philly here.