Catching up with Indy chef Erin Kem

by | People, Q&A

Indianapolis food fans might know chef Erin Kem from the dozen years she spent at the highly regarded R bistro on Mass Ave. But when that restaurant closed in 2016, she took on the challenge of cooking in a very small footprint – behind the bar at the former Cannon Ball Brewery. When that spot was purchased by Scarlet Lane Brewing, she oversaw the kitchens at two of the brewery’s locations. With her latest move, she has even more locations to cook for. Look for Chef Erin to kick off our Culinary Crossroads Spring Dinner Series in Indianapolis in April.

Catch us up on where you are now.

After working in brewery tap house kitchens for nearly six years, I left to take a position as the Culinary Director of Small Victories Hospitality Group (operators of Coat Check Coffee, Provider, Landlocked Baking, Strangebird and Chalet). I’m currently providing food to the morning programs at all of our locations, but I’m beginning to focus more on developing a dinner menu at Chalet, our newest location. 

What do you see for the future of fine dining?

I fear that there are many factors working against the future of fine dining – the obvious culprits like food cost and super thin margins, the pandemic, the labor shortage (so many skilled people leaving the industry). Additionally, the cultural shift to casual dining is hurting fine dining. The pomp and circumstance of going out for a fine-dining experience has lost its luster for many. 

How would you describe your food philosophy?

Fresh and seasonal are the best words to describe my cooking, but my philosophy is more about creating beautiful balanced food that exposes my diners (including friends and family!) to unexpected flavors. 

Have you been influenced by travels and other cultures

Always! My trip plans revolve around where and what I’m going to eat. Vietnam, Scandinavia and Morocco are some of the most notable and influential spots I’ve traveled. I also spent a year in France, so “dining” became a way of life when I wasn’t working!

What do you like to cook at home?

This winter has been full of hearty stews and soups; warmer weather means fire pit paella, homemade pizza in the Ooni oven, whole fish on the Blackstone griddle. I love cooking outside in our backyard that becomes an extension of our home.

What items are always in your refrigerator? 

Oh boy…preserved lemons, no fewer than four kinds of mustard, oat milk, eggs, pickles…LOTS of pickles.

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