Smarter chefs = more exciting meals for Indy diners

 

A week of great food events proves Indy chefs know their stuff

If last week is any indication, Indy’s culinary professionals are getting smarter. No, they’re not casting off their toques in favor of mortar boards. Nor do their menus require footnotes just to figure out your evening meal. In truth, some of them were pretty smart to start with. But with so much afoot on the Indy dining scene and so many new cooks being trained here in Indianapolis, no one can accuse Indy’s restaurant kitchens of employing bumpkins who can’t tell a shallot from a pearl onion.

On the contrary, as two journeys into local kitchens showed last week, there’s a lot to be learned from Indy’s chefs. Most promising for our culinary future was the first public event at The Chef’s Academy, Indiana Business College’s spanking new culinary school just east of its downtown campus. Sponsored by Indianapolis Dine Magazine, the open house on Wednesday, April 18 allowed the first crop of students to demonstrate their culinary muster, in delicious hors d’oeuvres ranging from chorizo puffs to chocolate mousse cups, and to see the spiffy kitchens where they’re earning their degrees.

With distinguished Chef Tony Hanslits as director of education and Joshua Horrigan as director of career services, the academy is ensuring that even more of the people cooking your dinner aren’t going in blindly. That’s got to mean more local cooks will take their first positions with a good measure of skill. The academy facilities are certainly inviting, and they’re committed to educating Indy’s lay cooks in an exciting series of week-long, hands-on courses — virtually unprecedented in the Indy area. First up is a Tour of Italy from April 30 to May 4. Additional courses will include “Grilling Unwrapped” and “All About Dough.” For more, contact Cissi Robertson at 317-656-4856.

On Sunday, April 22 came an event that, in its third year, continues to show just how clever some of the more seasoned chefs in Indy can be. Apart from raising over $30,000 in three years for Riley Children’s Hospital, this event highlights the skills of 10 local chefs in eight courses paired with wine. Maybe it was getting to see the chefs at work in the kitchen, or maybe it was all of the superb wine pairings, but this year’s dinner raised the bar considerably over past years in terms of innovative dishes and intriguing techniques. Nearly 90 guests got a tasty survey of this city’s best chefs at the top of their game.

Hanslits led off with delectable potato-less gnocchi prepared with asparagus and a basic flour dough. One bite was a lesson in how to make these pillowy dumplings neither gummy nor mushy but perfectly toothsome. A buttery sauce of taleggio and asiago cheeses didn’t hurt. Greg Hardesty’s consommé perfumed with fennel and caramelized onion would get an A+ in Stock Making 101. Somehow both flavors co-existed but maintained their own character. A rich spring roll with shallots and Traders Point Fleur de la Terre cheese accompanied.

A curious trio of dishes followed, all subtly prepared and then wrapped to let the flavors and textures set. Chef Karl Benko’s Kurobuta pork (the pork equivalent to Kobe beef) with surprisingly mild prosciutto “glued” to its surface with transglutiminase from his molecular gastronomist’s chemistry set was a hit with a medallion of butternut squash and Michigan ramps (wild leeks). Regina Mehallick’s miso-marinated duck with an herb salad was a bright, fresh intermezzo with a beautifully balanced vinaigrette mingling lemongrass, brown sugar and jalapeño. Seared poached lamb loin with a parsnip puree from Columbia Club’s Greg Carroll offered a very pure take on this often gamey meat with a nice mix of textures. Host Ryan Nelson of The Oceanaire grabbed diners by the cheeks, literally, with a duo of cheeks — halibut and veal — in an intriguing garam masala “gravy.” Unusual cuts are no surprise from Nelson, but these were especially good, the halibut particularly taking to the meatiness of the sauce and the nearby veal.

In the first of two finales, Chef Nicole Anderson, appearing with husband Eli of H2O Restaurant, proved again why she’s Indy’s most exciting pastry chef. Her almond “Financier” cake — a traditional brown butter cake shaped like a bar of gold — was a delicacy I’d want to stockpile. With another of her creative ice creams — honey and orange flower — this was a stunning, wisely restrained sweet. Taste Café’s Marc Urwand and Diedra Henry followed with an equally intelligent cheese plate including more Traders Point cheese with a smear of fig paste and Black River bleu with pineapple that had us feeling our palates had gone to graduate school in a single heady evening.

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