Bloomington chef Daniel Orr on foraging, fine dining and what’s in his fridge
Columbus, Ind., native Daniel Orr left Indiana for culinary school, and his career took him around the world, from Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe to some of New York City’s top fine-dining establishments. In 2008, he came home, embraced his “inner Hoosier,” as he says, and opened FARMbloomington. Located right downtown on Kirkwood Avenue in Bloomington, the restaurant features a farmhouse vibe, an award-winning burger and his great-grandma’s buttermilk biscuits.
For those who’ve never been, how would you describe the food at FARMbloomington?
Our concept is “Local Ingredients with Global Flavors.” We work with local farmers, foragers, growers and grain producers as much as possible and create a menu with techniques and recipes from my travels to France, Belgium, Great Britain, the Caribbean as well as from chefs I’ve worked with from Japan, India, Brazil and many other cultural and ethnic cuisines.
I know you do a lot of foraging yourself. Do you have a favorite ingredient you look forward to?
Mushrooms are always a fun one to forage for, and I’m a certified mushroom hunter, but love day lilies, wild garlic mustard, chickweed, wild garlic and onions, red buds and dandelions.
How did you decide to become a chef?
My parents were kind of like hippies without the drugs. They made their own soaps, wine, jams, jellies and preserves. We always had a huge garden and fruit trees and bushes, and as kids we were sent in the woods to harvest wild berries and other goodies. It was a natural progression to getting in the kitchen with my mom and grandmothers to help with the cooking and man the grill with my father. My first job in the kitchen was with Max and Christine Lemley at the Walnut Room in Columbus, Ind., and I also worked with Chefs Jim and Claire Gregory for Irwin Miller, the owner of Cummins Diesel also in Columbus. After that I went to Johnson & Wales in Providence, R.I., and was a teaching assistant and fellowship instructor before starting my work life in New York City, Europe and the Caribbean before returning home to Indiana.
You’ve worked in fine dining restaurants in New York City — do you miss it?
I loved using the high-end ingredients and imported wild game. I also miss working with a large crew of of kitchen staff holding down a kitchen full of different stations. I loved the hustle and bustle of NYC. It was great to meet up with chefs from all over the city at the late-night chef hangouts.
Is there still a future for fine dining?
The restaurant business is cyclical. I believe it will come back strong in the future but with changes in the way it is served and presented on menus. The days of dressing up in a suit and tie to go to dinner are over. I think fine dining still exists in smaller, less formal settings.
In addition to FARMbloomington, what else are you up to?
I love working on cookbooks. I now have five, and I’m working on one about cooking for aging loved ones with dementia.
What do you like to cook at home?
When cooking for myself, I cook a lot of lean proteins and veggies. I love fresh fruit of all kinds. When the weather is nice, I love to grill. When I have folks over, things can get a lot more extravagant and usually themed around a cuisine from a far-away destination.
Any favorite fast foods or late-night indulgences?
Usually, it is mistakes from the restaurant, often made into a sandwich or salad. I try to eat as healthy as possible, but there are times I break down and go for take-away or a pint of sorbet.
Are there certain items that are always in your refrigerator?
All kinds of condiments from around the world, cheeses, yogurt, diet tonic, juices, fresh fruit and cooked proteins that I make on my day off.
For more on Chef Daniel, his restaurant, cookbooks, spice blends and more, check out the FARMbloomington website.