Evelyn Garcia, Chef Houston’s only local contestant, prepares for the season 19 premiere and plans a new restaurant


Top Chef: Houston Premieres Thursday, March 3, and chef Evelyn García says she’s as excited as any devout fan to see what happens in season 19 of the Bravo reality TV cook-off.

“Just the experience of being a part of it top chef is a blessing,” said García. But “being the only person from Houston — overwhelming.”

Like most people, García, 32, hasn’t watched a single episode – only clips online that hint at what’s to come. And while he’s tight-lipped about the result, it’s clear this Houston chef literally did it lived This season, she’s put her years of culinary skills to the test and learned a few things about herself in the process, like how her baking skills are better — her mental capacity, stronger — than she previously thought.

“All the chefs I’ve competed with are all heavyweights and they’ve done everything in their power to get where they are today, but at the same time, although it’s obviously nerve-wracking – mentally I thought I am too here — it’s tearing my butt,” said García, who will open her own Southeast Asian restaurant in Houston by the end of the year. And despite being tested with “crazy challenges,” the chef said she even impressed herself. She owns it, she said.

“You really have to ignore everything and stay inside. Sometimes I thought, ‘Wow, why aren’t you as nervous as you are feeling right now?’”

Aside from being one of the James Beard Award nominees (and at least one in what is called “best restaurant in the world‘), being the only Houstonian on the show and competing in her hometown added another layer of pressure to her performance.

García said she didn’t know the show was going to be in Houston that season until the producers selected her for the show. Though it added pressure to represent her hometown well, “it’s kind of comforting to have that whole experience in my city,” she said — and for Houston to gain its overdue glory as an eclectic culinary destination.

The show is expected to feature regional dishes and cultural favorites that reflect the city – from barbecue and Tex-Mex to Nigerian, Southeast Asian and Gulf Coast cuisines. The episodes are also set to take viewers to the Asian Night Market and Freedmen’s Town, the historic neighborhood in Houston’s Fourth Ward that served as the main post-Emancipation settlement for African Americans.

“I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most,” García said. “To see how top chef shows this amazing city that I obviously love so much… and for people to really see and know that it’s much more than sports and politics.”

Chef Evelyn Garcia will contribute her expertise in Southeast Asian cuisine top chef 19th season.
David Moir/Bravo

García’s upbringing in Houston prepared her in many ways for life as a chef.

“It was very natural for me to really fall in love with cooking. I grew up with it,” García said.

Born and raised in a Mexican and El Salvadoran household, García’s family had roots in the food industry. Her paternal grandfather’s family were cheesemakers in El Salvador; her maternal grandmother was a cook; and her maternal grandfather, a baker. Her earliest cooking memories include watching her mother and grandmother make tortillas in their family kitchen—kneading and pressing the dough, adding water as needed—but it was Houston’s rich Southeast Asian cuisine that sparked her interest in cooking, enough to make it a career.

“It was very common to get pho and eat vermicelli. My family enjoys it very much. They love to cook it, and so much of it was new to me in terms of technique, taste and ingredients,” she said.

In high school, García decided that she was destined for New York, albeit temporarily.

“Whatever I wanted to build, it should be here in Houston,” she said, emphasizing that after attending the Culinary School for America in Hyde Park, her plan was to stay in the Big Apple for at least a year to see the water to test and learn as much as she could before returning home.

But as a young woman in New York, “I loved the hustle and bustle. … I recorded everything,” she said. One opportunity led to another, and one year turned into a decade.

While in New York, García worked under chef Anthony Ricco at the now-defunct Spice Market, at Singaporean restaurant Masak under chef Larry Reutens, and with top chef Season 1 winner Harold Dieterle as junior sous chef at the now closed Thai restaurant Kin Shop.

In 2014, at just 24 years old, García beat three competitors in the All Burger Meal challenge on Food Network’s chopped – an experience that felt like “a pat on her back.”

With more confidence in her cooking skills, García returned to Houston in 2016 and began hosting pop-ups, taking every opportunity that came her way – including catering and a chef residency before venturing out with her own project – Kin HTX.

García opened a Southeast Asian food stand in Rice Village’s former Politan Row food hall and planned to serve her signature dishes while she searched for her brand’s “eternal home.” Then COVID hit and forced the food hall to close in November 2020. Garcia had to change direction.

“I knew I wanted to work on my own stuff and create my own food,” García said, but the pandemic was the final nudge. With a growing brand under Kin — and friends and customers encouraging her to bottle nearly every sauce she made — García said she decided to create her own Southeast Asian seasoning and condiment line to attract new customers and collaborate incumbents to stay connected, she called.

Photo of chef Evelyn García in a Top Chef apron.

The first time Chef Evelyn Garcia entered a reality TV cook-off was on Food Network Chopped.
Emily Shur/Bravo

The business proved to be sustainable, with the ability to sell products wholesale to local shops. Now her pop-ups have expanded to various farmers’ markets across the city, and García is on the lookout for new ventures.

With a Top Chef: Houston Season in the books, the chef is also working on Jūn by Kin with chef Henry Lu. The restaurant, which García describes as “a love letter to Houston’s Southeast Asian cuisine,” is slated to open later this year.

Meanwhile, García is looking forward to sunbathing for the moment.

She will watch her experience on national television with the rest of the country. On premiere night, she plans to stop by the Saint Arnold Brewing Company officially top chef watch party before watching the excitement of the first episode at home with her parents and siblings. “It’s good to get the first one out of the way,” she said.

But on Friday she will celebrate.

Kin will be the host After party pop up at the Stomping Grounds Friday night from 6pm to 10pm featuring music by a DJ and Mariachi band, inflatable velcro wall, photo booth, selection of drinks and food and a variety of local vendors. Tickets are available on the Kin for $15-$25 website.

The first episode of Top Chef Houston airs March 3 at 7pm CST/8pm EST. In the meantime, you can check out the trailer below.


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