Brandt Evans is one of the region's culinary superstars. If you've dined at either Blue Canyon in Twinsburg or Pura Vida downtown, you understand the chef's commitment to freshness, as well as his ability to push the farm-to-table envelope, as evidenced by his "urban picnic" menu concept at Pura Vida.
Conceived on the back of a bar napkin with partner Bob Voelker, Blue Canyon has been pleasing palates with its rustic comfort food for the past nine years. Evans' other restaurant, Pura Vida, has entered its sophomore year angling at a course not entirely mainstream among its peers. "I knew I was sticking my neck out and truly ahead of the curve," explains Evans. "Considering that everyone screams bacon, I wanted to create a place that Clevelanders haven't seen yet. We have really focused on vegan and vegetarian cooking."
To push the envelope of vegetable-friendly cuisine, Evans digs deep into the culinary toolbox. One of his favorite ingredients to use at both eateries, while not well known, hardly is a new invention. Black garlic, a trendy ingredient, has been around for ages, according to Evans. "Honestly, the Egyptians used to make it in clay jars and ferment it in caves," he says.
Black garlic, made by fermenting whole bulbs of garlic at high temperatures, has roots throughout the Asian continent. The taste is sweet and complex, with notes of balsamic vinegar and tamarind. "This style of garlic truly gives a dish a deep caramel, caramelized garlic flavor," notes the chef.
While he certainly is interested by the ingredient's pedigree, Evans is more enamored by how well it works in so many of his dishes. In the African Peanut Stew at Pura Vida, the black garlic rounds out the creamy peanut while Thai chile adds some welcome spice. Evans also utilizes black garlic in his linguine with poached clams; he serves coriander-crusted snapper with black-garlic fingerling potatoes; and the meaty grilled Kobe beef sirloin gets a huge flavor bump from black-garlic steak sauce.
Over at Blue Canyon, Evans finds equal utility for the interesting ingredient. "This type of garlic lends itself to wild game," he says. That restaurant's grilled rack of elk is finished with black-garlic blackberry reduction sauce, which adds a depth of flavor. "The black garlic truly gives the dish a very unique yet familiar flavor," he says.
When the busy chef gets that rare chance to unwind and cook for his wife and daughter, black garlic is rarely out of reach. Evans weaves the garlic into various pasta dishes, marinades and egg stratas. "Even our four-year-old lab Sunny can smell the garlic throughout the house," he says.