Catching up with Indy chef Erin Kem

Catching up with Indy chef Erin Kem

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.

Enjoy a taste of Indiana with our dinners and newsletter

Enjoy a taste of Indiana with our dinners and newsletter

We’re taking the show on the road! Our Culinary Crossroads team heads to Fort Wayne later this month for another On the Road dinner. As we’ve done in Evansville and in the New Albany/Jeffersonville area, our Fort Wayne dinner will bring together talented chefs to create a one-of-a-kind evening celebrating great food, great talent and great causes.

These collaborative chef dinners feature multi-course meals that never fail to wow our guests and support a variety of local causes chosen by the chefs. The dinners also bring together local food fans and supporters of Indiana’s culinary community while spotlighting businesses, farms, wineries, distilleries and breweries. We hope to see you at one of our events around the state!

We’re also exploring the state through this twice monthly On the Road newsletter. You’re reading our third issue, and we’re excited to be highlighting events, restaurants, chefs and food artisans across Indiana. Please help us spread the word and forward this to a friend!

You’ll also see some big changes to CulinaryCrossroads.org as well. We’ll be posting more articles and info on the website to keep you in the know about the vibrant food scenes in cities around the state, destination restaurants worth the drive, food sport competitions and other great foodie events. Be sure to check out our newsletter calendar, where we include events in Northern, Central and Southern Indiana – and a few restaurant suggestions as well.

We hope you’ll follow us on social media and come along for the ride – it’s going to be a tasty adventure!

Collaborative chef dinners bring local food fans together

Collaborative chef dinners bring local food fans together

Here at Culinary Crossroads, we believe strongly in building community and bringing people together around the dinner table. Our Dinner Series initiative began in April 2021, with our Spring Dinner Series at Highland Golf & Country Club in Indianapolis. Our 2022 series proved even more successful, and we’ll be back this spring with another four-week series of collaborative chef dinners at Highland, from April 10-May 1. In August 2021, we partnered with Paramount Schools of Excellence in Indianapolis to create our Sunday Supper Club dinner series, which ran through August 2022. We’re pleased to report that the Sunday Supper Club will be back for another season of intimate chef dinners beginning in Spring 2023.

As Culinary Crossroads is a statewide brand, we’ve also created our On the Road dinners that take place around the state. We’ve brought chefs and local food supporters together in Evansville and the New Albany area, and we’ll be back in both areas this spring for more great collaborative meals. And on Feb. 21, we’ll be in Fort Wayne for a collaborative chef dinner at the Union Street Market in the new Electric Works development. (For more on this creative reimagining of Fort Wayne’s former General Electric plant, take a look at our Featured Destination piece in this issue of our newsletter.)

We’re also looking ahead to On the Road dinners in Lafayette, Terre Haute, South Bend and Valparaiso. We hope to see you at one of our events in Indy or around the state!

Team Indiana at the World Food Championships

Team Indiana at the World Food Championships

Team Indiana was well represented at the 2022 World Food Championships in Dallas this year. The competition took place Nov. 9-13, and Culinary Crossroads helped support seven Indiana chefs as they competed.

This year’s Team Indiana group of chefs included Cindy Hawkins of Circle City Sweets competing in the dessert category; Craig Baker of HAIV Hospitality in the sandwich category; Justin Miller in seafood; Turon Cummings of Soul Kantina in burger; Marcus Daniel of Joseph Decuis in vegetarian; Travis Hitch of Kan-Kan Brasserie in bacon; and Mike Gomez of Gomez BBQ in rice/noodle.

Five Team Indiana chefs made it into the top 10 in their categories: Hawkins, Baker, Cummings, Daniel and Hitch. They all went on to compete in the final round of competition. And while no one on Team Indiana ended up winning their category, it was a great showing – and we’re hoping for more Team Indiana members next year!

Craig Baker
Cindy Hawkins

Southern Indiana chefs featured at upcoming On the Road collaborative dinner

Southern Indiana chefs featured at upcoming On the Road collaborative dinner

We’re hitting the road again!

Culinary Crossroads launched the On the Road dinner series last October in Evansville, and now we’re headed to the New Albany and Jeffersonville area. We thought you’d like to meet our three “culinary ambassadors” who’ll be creating an incredible menu for our May 18 dinner at Huber Orchard & Winery.

Ming Pu, executive chef, Brooklyn & the Butcher

A native of Taiwan, chef Ming Pu credits his mother for instilling in him a true passion for cooking. When he was 7, Ming and his family moved to Vancouver, Canada, where they lived for two years before making Louisville their permanent home in 1999. Along the way, the 30-year-old chef gained a diverse food vocabulary of East Asian and French techniques and skills with a wide range of ingredients that are evident today in his New American cuisine at Brooklyn and The Butcher in New Albany. Ming has been honored by local and national publications, has been a contestant on the Food Network series “Beat Bobby Flay,” has cooked at the James Beard House in New York City and has participated in food and wine fests around the country.

Scott Dickenson, chef/owner, 1816 Modern Kitchen & Drinks

Born and raised in Norfolk, Va., chef Scott Dickenson made his way into the kitchen out of necessity. Growing up on ramen and tough times, he left school at 16 to take a job as a busboy, and after working his way up, he found his true passion – cooking. A motorcycle accident in 2014 put him in a wheelchair for a year, but he never stopped thinking about food and where it was going to take him. He relearned how to walk, and during a visit to Corydon, he fell in love with its small-town charm. While working at local restaurants, he began doing live cooking shows at Mesa in New Albany, where local investors took notice. With their help in 2019, he opened 1816 Modern Kitchen + Drinks, which features a Southern and Asian fusion menu.

Brittany Nicholson, pastry chef, Coffee Crossing

Brittany Nicholson is a classically trained pastry chef with a love for simple, flavorful desserts with an elevated twist. Born and raised in southern Indiana, her love for cooking began in the kitchen with her family. After deciding on a culinary career, Brittany studied at Sullivan University in Louisville and graduated in 2014. She accepted a position as an entry level baker and in less than six months had moved up to senior cake designer, a position she held for the next four years. While there, her work was featured in competitions, newspapers and magazines such as Kentucky Living and Louisville Eats. Today she runs the bakeshop at Coffee Crossing in New Albany, which produces pastries for six coffee shop locations. She also is a chef instructor for Mesa Kids Cooking School.