Meet the Chef: Adam Evans of Automatic Seafood

Automatic Seafood & Oysters opened in Birmingham in 2019, and it wasn’t long before it became a local favorite. Originally from Muscle Shoals, Chef Adam Evans’ path in the hospitality industry took him across the country before Automatic opened its doors back in his home state—but it all started with his family vacations to the Gulf Coast as a child.

Chef Evans was raised by a family that appreciated fresh seafood, but he didn’t find a love for it himself until he began working at Tom Colicchio's restaurant, Craft, in New York City. There, under chef Damon Wise, he learned how to properly prepare fish. “That's when I fell in love with seafood. We would braise fish and we would roast fish. As I got better, he would expand the techniques that we would use.” said Chef Evans.

After his time at Craft, Chef Evans headed back down south to Atlanta to help Ford Fry open The Optimist, helping bring a fish camp experience to the landlocked city. With all this experience under his belt—as well as his previous kitchen work in New Orleans at BACCO and La Petite Grocery—it was a natural step to open a place of his own.

Automatic is known for its Gulf Coast seafood and locally harvested produce, and Chef Evans makes sure nothing goes to waste. “When we opened the restaurant, we made a commitment to buy only the whole fish, and if we were going to do that, we had to figure out how to actually use the whole fish. I'll make snapper the familiar way, but then we scrape the bones, and we can smoke that meat to make a smoked fish dip, or add it to a batter to have a smoked fish hush puppy. We're literally taking as much of that meat as we can and are using it.” he said. 

One of the most popular menu items is the oysters, which can range in flavor from briny to melony. “We usually have anywhere from 10 to 12 different varieties of oysters on the menu. I'm pretty particular to Murder Point Oysters because the owners are  from Alabama. I know them, and I have a relationship with them.” said Chef Evans.

For the chef, the atmosphere of Automatic is as important as the food. Previously the Automatic Sprinkler Corporation manufacturing facility, the space was reimagined by his wife, designer Suzanne Humphries. The shiplap and dark navy tones evoke the elegant timelessness of vintage, coastal Americana. “She understands how to set the tone and mood by the design. It really can be a powerful thing to be able to get that right for a restaurant, and she did it.” he said.

The restaurant quickly gained popularity outside of Birmingham as well. It’s first year open, Esquire included Automatic on its “Best New Restaurants in America" list. Then, in 2020, the restaurant was named a James Beard Finalist for Best New Restaurant. The recognition is well deserved, as the always bustling dining room makes clear.

Though it is worth a trip to Birmingham, this year Chef Evans is bringing his talents to the Harvest Wine & Food Festival. The multi-course dinner will be served on Thursday, November 4th at 6pm. Tickets to all Harvest events are available now. 

Published on Wednesday, July 14, 2021