By Brian Garrido
Indianapolis chef Carlos Salazar’s culinary journey began in his family’s kitchen, and eventually led him to culinary school. He studied with longtime Indy chef Tony Hanslits at The Chef’s Academy and then worked for chef Steven Oakley of Oakleys Bistro. Under their tutelage, he honed his skills and eventually partnered with restaurateur Ed Rudisell at Rook, which quickly became a destination eatery focusing on Asian flavors. He launched his Lil Dumplings restaurant concept at Fishers Test Kitchen in 2020 focusing on Filipino-inspired dishes, then opened Lil Dumplings Noodle Bar at the Garage Food Hall in 2021. Recently, he launched Lil Rook Food Truck, where he recreates grab-and-go dishes from Rook, which closed during the pandemic.
What made you become a chef?
I was in school for accounting, and my best friend, now my wife, was visiting from college. She asked me how I liked accounting. I told her I couldn’t see myself in a cubicle for the rest of my life. She said, “Why don’t you go to culinary school?” I discovered a culinary school opening in Indy (The Chef’s Academy), and that’s how it started.
What is your favorite type of food and why?
My answer is always everything. I love all food. I could eat pizzas or burgers for a week. But right now, either Thai or Filipino food.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Friends. It used to be reading cookbooks or watching other chefs that I would never meet. Now, it’s being able to eat my friends’ food. That inspires me, especially when they make something with an unusual flavor profile. It gets my head going.
What is your favorite thing to make for yourself and your family?
I like braised meats. We like to do something very quick and simple, so we have more time to spend with each other, because most of my time is in the restaurant. I would pick braised meats over anything grilled or fried.
If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would that be, and what would you eat?
I’ve always wanted to go to India for the diversity of flavors, but there’s also Thailand. And if I picked one dish, I would say pad Thai. That’s my thing.
What items are always in your fridge?
A lot of condiments. Hot sauce. Ketchup. Mayonnaise. Eggs.
If you could choose a favorite place in Indiana to visit, where would that be located, and what would you eat?
I would pick downtown Indy. Out of all the places in Indiana I’ve been, that area has the food that inspires me the most. I often go to Beholder and Bluebeard because those two chefs [Jonathan Brooks and Abbi Merriss] inspire me.