Fresh is best when it comes to food. This well-known fact is getting new respect from culinary experts all over the word, including Knightstown native Ty Hunt, who recently took over as executive chef at the Indianapolis Museum of Art's new Nourish Café.
Hunt, 38, sees it as an opportunity to spread the word about the benefits of eating fresh from local food producers. Nourish Café replaces IMA's former restaurant, Puck's, an upscale restaurant bearing the name of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.
"This is a pinnacle job for me," he admitted, during a quiet interview at a table in the IMA's common area. "This is a huge opportunity and a lot of fun."
Hunt said it's also a time-consuming job, involving lots of creative thinking, long-range planning and logistics. And his menu just got a little trickier: His wife, Lea, gave birth to twins (Eva Josephine and Matthew Hanagan) three weeks ago. They join 17-month-old Symon.
A new career and a new family might be tough for some. But, this might be the most important focus of Hunt's energy and enthusiasm. "It's tough," he said with a sigh. "But, my wife is a trooper who understands that I'm doing what I need to be doing right now.
"The IMA has got a great reputation for culture," he adds. "And we're being surrounded with support and opportunities," he said. "I've worked at a lot of different places in the past. But, this is by far one of the coolest."
Hunt grew up eating fresh on the farm in Knightstown. So great was his enjoyment in doing so, he now wants to demonstrate for the world -- or at least Nourish Café customers -- what it really means to eat fresh and local.
It's a concept that's been trying to worm its way back into popular American culture for generations. Some call it "locality." Others simply say, "Know where your food comes from!" It's as simple as it sounds really.
Hunt puts it best: "My food is something you don't need a dictionary to understand."
Leading the charge to reestablish a great restaurant at the IMA, Hunt wants to depart from trendy, ultra-modern, "designer food" and get back to local, simple, healthy and tasty. It's not just his decision to do so: Restaurant customers, IMA visitors and employees are apparently craving it. "Our clients are pushing for fresh foods," Hunt said. "We're going to oblige."
But, the goal isn't to only serve great food; there's an educational component on this new menu. Hunt's philosophy about eating locally is supported by an interesting and astute concept about the growth of contemporary American society. "As a whole, we're striving for the cheapest, most reliable food we can find. And that's boiled down to the fact that we've built up a transportation system that keeps us alive," he said, excitement building. "In the old days, it was either canned or out of the garden. Then, suddenly, we had the ability to get pineapples from Costa Rica."
Hunt explained that Americans have, sadly, become reliant on processed and preserved foods mainly due to their beguiling convenience. This long ago drew Americans away from their very fresh and local farmers and gardeners, trading in, say, the ripe goodness of a fresh, locally-grown cantaloupe for a store-bought hothouse tomato.
"We got used to the fact that we could get iceberg lettuce in the middle of winter," he said. "We could get strawberries in February -- which is not a bad thing! But, when we ignore the fact that the farmers' market is right around the corner on Saturday mornings -- and you can get the best sweet corn in the world -- and have it that night for dinner! There are no artificial ingredients and your family is right there around your table, together.
"That's kind of the fun part of bringing folks back to locality," he says. "That's what Nourish Café is trying to do. We're trying to educate people a little bit and give them a reason to come here when they know they're supporting local producers."