Chef Rob Evans has said that the reason he opened his Portland, Maine, restaurant Duckfat, in 2005, was to make what more than a few people have called the best french fries ever—Maine spuds fried in duck fat, tossed with spices, and served, Belgian-style, in a simple cone. But there’s a lot more than fries being finessed at Duckfat. The 25-seat sandwich shop that Evans launched in 2005 with his wife and business partner, Nancy Pugh, prides itself on curing its own meats, whipping up its own flight of mayos, and sourcing everything from seafood to vegetables from the fishermen and farmers that call Maine home.

Back in 2000, Evans helped to put Portland back on the food-destination map with Hugo’s, the restaurant he bought and turned around with innovative dishes like an espresso cup rimmed with popcorn dust, containing a shot of lobster-and-corn bisque laced with chorizo oil. At Hugo’s, Evans played with a self-described “ingredient obsession” that was inspired, he says, by one of his great mentors, Thomas Keller, while Evans spent time in Keller’s French Laundry, in Yountville, California. His cooking earned him a 2004 nod as a Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine, and a 2009 James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef/Northeast.

Before Evans hit Keller’s kitchen, he learned to cook by working his way up the line. He did a stint at the award-winning Inn at Little Washington, in Washington, Virginia, and was executive chef for five years at Goose Cove Lodge in Deer Isle, Maine.

Evans won an episode of the Food Network’s Chopped in 2011 and returned to the show in 2013 for Chopped Champions, where the judges declared him “a genius” before he took the first-runner-up title.