Local food advocate Twinkle Van Winkle on a new supermarket that will spotlight local products, classes and more

by | People, Q&A

Indy’s Twinkle Van Winkle has worn many hats: pastry chef, recipe developer, food writer. When the new Niemann Harvest Market opens soon in Carmel, she’ll be directing efforts at community engagement and presenting classes and demos at the store’s teaching kitchen, dubbed The Nook. She fills us in on her multifaceted culinary career, her favorite spring ingredients and spills the (sweet) tea on what’s in her fridge.

First, I have to ask, is Twinkle your real name and has such an unusual moniker been a help or a hindrance?

Yes, it’s my real name. My parents are just as unique as you might imagine, and I’m
grateful for the name they gave me. It has almost always been a wonderful thing for me. The only real hindrance was bullies in grade school, you know. But it never really bothered me too much. I grew up in a small town (in Mississippi) and I guess I never really thought about it as “weird” since it is what everyone called me. Although I can do without being called Tinkle or Twinky. LOL. As my granddaddy always said, you can call me whatever you like, just don’t call me late for dinner.

What’s your background in food and what are you up to now?

I began cooking professionally in the early `90s. I trained to be a pastry chef and began writing recipes. I was the head pastry chef at Bottletree Bakery for 9-10 years, chef at a few other places. Once I moved to Indy from Mississippi in 2008, I started getting involved with the local food and drink scene. I wrote food articles and recipes for Indy Star, was the senior lifestyle editor for LIN Media, and most recently was the food and dining editor at Indy Monthly. I’m also really proud of the work I did as the executive chef of the Patachou Foundation. I have made specialty wedding cakes, catered meals, had an apple pie on “Oprah”, and once I made a chocolate cake styled as a Prada purse with matching shoe, bedazzled with chocolate work, for John Grisham’s wife.
Currently I’ve taken on the role of Community & Culinary Engagement and The Nook Director for Niemann’s Harvest Market opening in May in Carmel (off 116th and Keystone). With that role, I’ll be able to engage with the community and lead classes and demos in The Nook featuring local products that we carry in the store. For our grand opening, I’m featuring Smoking Goose, Chef Tanorria and more over the three-day event.

Is there one aspect of the food biz you’ve enjoyed the most?

I really love the community of growers, producers, and chefs I’ve gotten to know, and I love it when I can share a small business with others, and watch their business take off. It’s so cool that one day you are sharing a delicious product or a new restaurant and then see them in 4 or 5 years bigger and better. I also have loved the camaraderie of Indy Women in Food, a local organization that supports women whose lives are involved with food here in Indianapolis. It’s a very supportive group of female-identified chefs, entrepreneurs, food creators, foodies, food writers… it’s pretty comprehensive. And it’s amazing.

Tell us more about the new gig with Niemann Harvest Market? What will the new store be like?

So Harvest Market is nothing like you have seen before. Its food philosophy is to support locally grown and produced food in the cities they are located. (Currently the Carmel location is the third location, and one will be opening next year in Ann Arbor, Michigan.) When you walk through the main doors, you are greeted by friendly faces and an entire produce section of Indiana-grown produce-from corn to tomatoes to what-have-you. Almost all the produce is local, along with meat, eggs, dairy. Supporting farmers and supporting small is really the goal, along with bringing good, fresh food to people’s tables. There is a restaurant, tap room, coffee shop, and each department is managed by folks that believe in this philosophy. You’ll see Tulip Tree Creamery, Fischer Farms, 4 Birds Bakery, Just Pop In and so many more familiar foods. It’s a really bright, wonderful space. Oh, and let’s not forget the butter room. The cheesemongers will be churning our own butter with cream from a local creamery. You can actually watch them while you shop! As for me, I will be engaging folks in what is called The Nook. It’s a teaching kitchen where I will be offering classes to the public 4-5 times a week at some point, I hope! It also allows me the ability to feature folks who have products in our store, as well. I’ll be creating healthy meal kits with ingredients that are sourced locally, and teaching lots of classes. I even have a few champagne brunches on the schedule. I mean, who doesn’t want to come have brunch, a mimosa or two, then get their shopping out of the way for the week? I’m really excited to be back cooking, recipe developing and generally just getting people involved in cooking for themselves and learning about local foods.

Are there favorite dishes or ingredients you like to cook this time of year?

This time of the year I love to cook with radishes, sweet peas, and rhubarb. It’s also a great time of the year for foraging, so if I get my hands on morels, definitely. Ramps as well! But I always love gathering violets, red buds, dandelions and pine buds. They all make cool, interesting additions to salads and jams.

Any advice for home cooks wanting to up their game?

Definitely get out and visit some farmers markets. And sign up for a class with me! But
seriously, cooking is for everyone. Don’t be afraid to take a few risks with a new recipe or new ingredients. Find cookbooks with foods you enjoy and start experimenting. Also you should always have the basics on hand: onions, garlic, celery, carrots, bell pepper. These are the beginning of delicious.

What items are always in your fridge?

A gallon pitcher of sweet tea, sriracha, miso, Duke’s mayo and butter.

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