Catching up with Indy chef and James Beard semifinalist Thomas Melvin

by | People, Q&A

Indiana native Thomas Melvin, executive chef at Vida in Indianapolis since 2017, just received his second nod from the James Beard Foundation for Best Chef: Great Lakes. The restaurant, located in Indy’s historic Lockerbie Square neighborhood, has received AAA’s Four Diamond rating every year since opening and made Open Table’s 100 Hottest restaurants list for the past two years. When not in the restaurant’s kitchen, Thomas spends downtime with his wife, Amanda, and their two children. The couple also devotes time to their nonprofit, Stella’s Solemates, Inc., which supports local Down Syndrome organizations. 

What made you want to become a chef? 
I have always loved discovering new ingredients and naturally gravitated to learning how to manipulate them in the most delicious ways possible. As a young adult, my passion was fine arts, and I was set on following that passion. Along the way, I realized as a chef, I can create in a medium that not only fuels the fire, but also nourishes and transports.

What’s your favorite type of food and why?
My favorite type of food would have to be American. I have tremendous love and respect for the cuisines of the world, but as a country, we are not bound by one food or style. We embrace styles from all over the world. 

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Inspiration mainly comes from ingredients, which then leads to seasonality. The muse can arise from a number of different sources: books, music, a conversation about a food memory or someone telling me they “hate” an ingredient. I love making something for someone that changes their perspective on an ingredient or dish. 

What’s your favorite thing to make for yourself and your family?
While I am blessed that I get the opportunity to be creative with food and use some of the best ingredients at work, at home my children prefer the simpler things like a pot roast or meatloaf. 

If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would that be, and what would you have? 
This is the toughest question of the lot. There are many places that I would love to visit and experience the food. Feet to fire, my answer would be Italy as a whole and explore all the regions.

If you could choose a favorite place in Indiana to visit, where would that be located, and what would you eat? 
Outside of Indianapolis, would be a place and time answer. Growing up, we would go to Spring Mill State Park every year. I have very fond memories of exploring the grounds/streams/caves. I would be eating the delicious food that was prepared by my great-grandmother, grandmother and aunts.

What items are always in your fridge?
Eggs, hummus, pickled things, quality cheese, hot sauce, bacon.

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