Evan Leutwiler — the former personal chef of Demi Moore and Jimmy Kimmel — has returned home to Chattanooga to plant roots after a life of traveling and cooking at some of the best restaurants in the United States.
The 32-year-old discovered his love for the culinary arts in his early teens. Deciding that he didn't want to grow up to be the type of man who didn't know how to cook for himself, he set out to learn a few basic recipes, and in doing so found his life's calling.
The summer before his junior year at Chattanooga Christian School, Leutwiler worked as a prep cook at Southside Grill, and his love for cooking grew. He took on various kitchen positions to put himself through college at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville.
By the time he graduated, he'd decided it was time for him to leave Tennessee and experience the world outside of the American Southeast.
Leutwiler found himself in Los Angeles.
"People would always tell me 'you're good, but you're good for Chattanooga,'" Leutwiler said. "I wanted to see if I could hang at the LA level."
Leutwiler started as a line cook at Spago, the flagship restaurant of world-renowned chef Wolfgang Puck. Because he never attended culinary school, this is where Leutwiler says he received his "education" as a chef. Working in several other distinguished restaurants in California, such as Rustic Canyon Wine Bar in Santa Monica and Animal in West Hollywood, Leutwiler was exposed to many different types of cuisines and cultures, but he always stuck out of the crowd because of his Southern roots, he said.
"Southern food has become more popular, so being in California and being from Tennessee caught a lot of people's attention," he said. "The food that people loved and grew up eating around here is being recognized on a larger national scale, which helped me a lot over there."
Eventually, Leutwiler entered the freelance chef scene. A little more sophisticated than the average caterer, he was contracted to cook for special events and private gatherings — including Steven Spielberg's personal Super Bowl party. By the time he started as a private chef for actress Demi Moore, and later, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, he was used to working with celebrities.
"You have that sense of being starstruck, but then you realize in a very real way that they are still people just like anyone else is," Leutwiler said. "Demi Moore is super-sweet, very kind. Jimmy Kimmel even more so. He's a wonderfully nice guy, genuinely so. Very generous, funny, thoughtful. ... They like it when you treat them like a normal person. You just have to be professional."
Leutwiler said one of his favorite things about being a chef was the relationships he was able to develop with those for whom he cooked.
"The first time you cook for someone, it's like a first date. But the more you cook for them, the better friends you become," he said. "You celebrate key moments in their lives with them. You get to know them at a deeper level. You are feeding them, and that's a really personal thing."
After many years on the high-end cooking scene, Leutwiler decided it was time to return home to be near family. He moved back to Chattanooga in January. He still has clients in LA who will fly him out for events, but otherwise Leutwiler has been dedicating his time to creating and perfecting new recipes, consulting for Red Drum Restaurant in Charleston, S.C., and building up more local clientele for his freelance chef business.
As for his future in cooking, he said his ultimate goal is to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but he is in no rush.
"Cooking is a lifelong journey," Leutwiler said. "And I'm not in a hurry."
You can contact Evan Leutwiler at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Instagram @eleutwiler.