I’ve been acquainted with Jon Brooks since he and my son were Montessori students at School #91, so you could say I have a rooting interest in this guy.
By now I’m guessing a lot of you know about Jon — or Jonathan — Brooks. He’s the chef and co-founder of Milktooth, one of Indy’s hottest restaurants. He’s a James Beard award nominee and Bon Appetit, one of this country’s top foodie mags, has declared Milktooth one of the country’s best new restaurants.
And Milktooth doesn’t even serve dinner!
Jon’s creativity in the kitchen has been enough to put him in my personal Indianapolis Hall of Fame. But his response to a recent article in Bon Appetit deserves a special ovation.
It seems Bon Appetit sent a writer named John Birdsall to Indianapolis and some other cities to do a piece called “How Every City Became Brooklyn” about how, as the title says, all of us, everywhere are trying to become what Brooklynites are acculturated to believe must be the coolest place on the planet.
“I tell Brooks how I’m in Indianapolis to find Brooklyn, and to see how America’s dominant food trends play out in a place with an emerging restaurant scene,” wrote Birdsall. “I see his face drop, like I’ve delivered the ultimate insult…”
Yep. Apparently no one was doing anything out here besides snarfing pork tenderloin sandwiches and overcooking their veggies until Brooklyn came along. This, of course, typifies NYC provinciality. I mean, New Yorkers really need to get out more.
What really stirred me was what Brooks had to say to Sarah Freeman of Chicago Eater about this encounter: “I get it, I understand why buzzwords and shit like that sell magazines and get people to read articles…But Brooklyn doesn’t have anything to do with Indianapolis.”
“Brooklyn doesn’t have anything to do with Indianapolis.” Someone should put that on a t-shirt.
The people behind the No Mean City campaign might think about this. No Mean City appears to be yet another attempt by local folks to talk themselves into believing that Indianapolis is as cool as we think (maybe) it is. Efforts like this one come up out of the ground like spring flowers. Where New Yorkers obsess about apartments and Chicagoans about neighborhoods, folks in Indy are forever talking to themselves about the city’s sense of self.
There is, admittedly, a practical side to this. A recognizable identity can draw attention, which can, in turn, help to create more opportunities for creative enterprise.
That’s why it would be refreshing if, for once, the city actually took its image seriously and developed a really robust cultural policy, borrowing best practices from other cities around the world. Cultural policymaking might, for starters, involve finally passing a percent for art ordinance so that artists were treated like other city contractors. It could make more underutilized spaces available at low cost to creative entrepreneurs. It might also develop funding sources to support community-based residencies aimed at supporting new work by leading difference-makers in technology and the arts.
Cultural policy would help build a cultural economy that could put Indianapolis on a bigger map.
Until that time, we have Jonathan Brooks — and that’s saying plenty.