BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — He may have taken home one of the most coveted awards in the culinary world, but Adam Evans knows there is more work left to be done.

Evans, who started Automatic Seafood and Oysters in Birmingham with his wife, Suzanne, was in Chicago Monday night when he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South. Evans, who grew up in Muscle Shoals and worked in kitchens across the country before coming to Birmingham, said it was a moment he won’t soon forget.

“This is something I’ve dreamed about ever since entering the food industry,” Evans said. “I couldn’t be happier.”

In fact, it was Frank Stitt–another Birmingham-based chef who took home the same award in 2001, who served as a major influence early on for Evans. He remembers reading his 2004 cookbook, “Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes & Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill,” and feeling that if Stitt could make it, he could too. By Monday night, Stitt was singing Evans’ praise.

“Congratulations to Adam on this well-deserved win! Pardis and I are very happy for him, Suzanne and their team at Automatic Seafood and Oysters,” Stitt wrote on Twitter. “They make all of us in Birmingham proud. Bravo!”

Kwame Onwuachi awards Adam Evans as Best Chef for the South Region during the 2022 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards at Lyric Opera of Chicago on June 13, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Evans runs Automatic Seaford in Birmingham. (Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images for James Beard Foundation )

Now back in Birmingham, Evans said that receiving the award has validated the work he and his staff have done at Automatic over the last few years.

“It just makes me super proud of all the stuff and work that goes in,” he said. “Hopefully, you don’t need outside validation and can keep going no matter what, but I think I would not be telling the truth if we weren’t super excited about the award.”

However, Evans knows that with the award comes higher expectations for him and everyone at Automatic.

“Now, it’s moreso we better step up our game and get even better,” he said. “We want to live up to these awards. We want to make ourselves better constantly.”

Evans said that with the new exposure he can look to help others, as well as nurture Southern cuisine. Specifically, one mission he wants to take part in is creating more sustainable fishing in the Gulf of Mexico so that both seafood restaurants and the environment will be in a good place.

“Maybe I’ll have more of a platform to preserve and help maintain the state of the Gulf,” he said. “I have a strong love for the Gulf and love fish and I want to see them be able to show the quality they deserve.”

Evans said that above everything else, he feels blessed by the way the community has supported Automatic since it first opened in 2019, surviving the pandemic and looking to move forward for years to come.

“I hope it becomes a restaurant that will be here many years down the road that is beloved by the city and adds to our community,” he said. “That’s what you hope for, that you can be part of the community and provide a service.”