White River State Park Executive Director Bob Whitt is justifiably excited at the prospect of next week's Dig-IN. "Last year, when we started this venture, we had fifteen restaurants, and we spent our entire budget on the event itself and on organization. We had nothing left for marketing, and had no idea what the public response would be."
The public response, as it turned out, was overwhelming, with three thousand hungry Hoosiers showing up for the inaugural event. This year, ticket sales are capped at five thousand; there are thirty-one participating restaurants, as well as numerous wineries, artisan farmers and producers, not to mention a solid representation from Indiana's burgeoning craft beer movement.
Born from the ashes of A Taste of Indiana, Dig-IN is designed to be a more focused event than its huge, unwieldy predecessor. "With Taste we were having difficulty getting the high-profile, high-end restaurants to participate," explains Whitt. "That, combined with the scheduling of Taste made it very hard for us to focus on quality."
This year there will be no shortage of quality on offer. The state's top locovore-inspired restaurants will be paired with small farmers and artisan producers to turn out a single signature dish. Foodies will have the opportunity to taste dishes from such luminaries as Aaron Butts of Joseph Decuis and David Tallent of Restaurant Tallent in Bloomington, as well as local culinary stars Tony Hanslits, Neal Brown and Greg Hardesty, amongst others.
This will also be the second year of the Slow Food Garden. Previously devoted to rare and endangered flowers, the garden, curated by Laura and Tyler Henderson, is now devoted to rare and endangered vegetables, and provides a striking example of how little of nature's astonishing diversity actually ends up on the average dinner plate in today's environment of factory farms and genetic modification.
Although there has been much well-deserved press for Indiana's artisan brewers, it would be a shame to overlook the state's wineries, several of which are attempting to get away from the negative stereotypes that have for so long shadowed local producers. Dig-IN will provide a good opportunity to sample wines from a number of grower-producers, including Best Vineyards and Marion County's own Buck Creek Winery.
For those not inclined towards alcohol, local and organic juices will be on hand from Natural Born Juicers, as well as coffee and teas from B-Java. In addition, those of a more cerebral bent can join local experts as they discuss chocolate, beer and wine, urban agriculture, nutrition, and related topics with an Indiana focus.
As Indiana's artisan food movement gains momentum, Dig-IN looks set to become a major player in the evolutionary process. As Bob Whitt sees it, "the whole business of artisan food used to be really fragmented, with all these different individuals doing their own thing. We wanted to capture all that energy and bring it together in one place. And what better place to do it than the White River State Park?"
[A+E] Classical Music, Dining Out
[A+E] Theater + Dance, Dining Out