The Rockpool Files

Spice Temple’s Andy Evans on epiphanies and Chinese New Year

Andy Evans has carved out a long, successful career at Rockpool Dining Group, beginning with his first-year apprenticeship at Rockpool on George Street in Sydney at the age of 19.

That was in 1994. A country boy from Berowra, Evans confesses to having cooked nothing except toasted sandwiches prior to this Rockpool days. He went from toasting sarnies at Asquith Golf Club in Mt Colah, NSW to working alongside luminary Neil Perry and chefs such as Kylie Kwong, Mike McEnearney, Amanda Gale and Kahn Danis, who have all gone on to be respected names in the industry.

Evans, now Executive Chef at Spice Temple, had an epiphany of sorts when he tasted Perry’s master-stock poached pigeon, which was wok-fried and served with braised eggplant stuffed with prawn mince.

The humble bird’s moist, crisp, twice-cooked carcass was served alongside its severed head, which was doused in Sichuan salt and pepper and fresh lime juice. The bird was carved at the table. The head could be popped into the mouth in one, single, daringly-decadent bite.

Evans recalls his introduction to the dish. McEnearney passed him a pigeon head and said ‘try it’. The young apprentice did as he was told. “When a chef you know and respect gives you something to eat, you have to try it,” Evans says. “You try everything.”

This was Andy’s light-bulb moment. A chef he was meant to be.

Spice Temple Executive Chef Andy Evans
Spice Temple Executive Chef Andy Evans

Rockpool was a creative powerhouse for modern Australian cooking and Evans was elated to be part of it. He relished the “collaborative creativity” that saw the Perry-Rockpool team break culinary boundaries and the comradery that saw restaurant “food swaps” for staff dinner with Chef David Thompson from Sailor’s Thai along the road in The Rocks.

Evans chalked up nine years with the Rockpool team, crediting his compatriots with embedding a fierce respect for exceptional produce, innovation and creativity that continues within the Rockpool premium restaurant stable today.

After Rockpool, he worked at Perry’s restaurant XO in Potts Point before leaving the Rockpool fold for several years, during which time he worked at China Doll in Woolloomooloo.

In 2008, after travelling through South America, he was seconded by Perry to assist with research and development for his next restaurant – Spice Temple. The pair spent several weeks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, drawing inspiration for the new menu.

Spice Temple opened in January 2009, with Evans as Head Chef. He’s been tossing the woks and manning the chopping blocks at the Bligh Street digs ever since.

A key milestone was the opening of Spice Temple Melbourne in 2011. Evans assumed the role of Executive Chef, overseeing both restaurant kitchens.

Another milestone is Spice Temple’s 10th anniversary this January, which means he’s chalking up his 10th  Chinese New Year celebration.

Chinese New Year is one of my favourite times of the year. There is fantastic energy and excitement as streets and local businesses are decorated in anticipation of the new lunar year. This energy is amplified on Chinese New Year, which falls on Tuesday 5th February this year and lasts for about two weeks. The lantern-lined streets of Chinatown are an intoxicating backdrop to an after-work walk and there are markets and festivities. You may even catch some lion dancing.”

Spice Temple is celebrating the Year of the Pig with a special Chinese New Year nine-course banquet menu of auspicious dishes from February 1-10 that promotes prosperity, peace, happiness, wealth, longevity, rejuvenation and love.