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!
Indianapolis pastry chef Cindy Hawkins, owner of Circle City Sweets, competed in her fifth World Food Championships in November as part of Team Indiana, a Culinary Crossroads initiative, and placed in the top 10. We caught up with Hawkins at her shop and production kitchen at the AMP artisan marketplace and food hall in Indianapolis to find out what it’s like to compete.
What’s the actual competition like?
People watch cooking competitions on TV, and people backstab and sabotage and they’re terrible, and it’s not like that at all. You might have a little old lady next to you, and then you might have a professional baker somewhere else. We’ll bring a bottle of sparkling wine or something, and when we’re finishing up, we’ll toast, and you’re sharing with the people around you and encouraging them. It’s a good time, it really is.
What type of cooks compete?
Home cooks, bloggers, barbecue people, you name it. There are a lot of barbecue teams in the dessert competition. It’s a huge variety of types of bakers.
What do you do once you get there?
We’ll get there the day before, and your whole purpose the day before is shopping. To get the lay of the land and shopping. The competition is at the fairgrounds, so it’s this big, huge, open space. In the center of a rectangle is the turn-in table. Then there’s two sides, and they’re big cooking arenas. There’ll be maybe 25 workstations on either side. When you get in there, you’ll have a chef’s meeting about a half hour before you compete. When that’s done, you get to go set up your station. We’ll pull out rolling pins and whatever tools we’re using.
What type of dessert did you do this year?
I always lean toward tarts. This year it was a small rectangular tart. We did a really nice sweet dough tart shell. We bruleed some bananas on the bottom of the shell after they’re baked, and then we made a banana moonshine pastry cream, so it had a layer of that. Then we piped a really pretty design in Italian meringue on top, and then a tiny, baby croquembouche for each one filled with that same pastry cream.
Did you practice a lot?
The first year we did it, we probably did five practice runs. We practiced like crazy. After that we haven’t practiced quite so much, but we did one test run, and we finished with easily 20 minutes to spare.
What the most challenging part of competing?
Not placing in the top 10. It’s a little heartbreaking. The first year we competed, we were in the bottom of the scoring. But its also the most thrilling when you make the top 10. That’s so awesome. As much as you want to pretend like it’s not that big of a deal, it’s so exciting when you get top 10.
The World Food Championships attracts more than 1,500 cooks from 42 states and six countries competing in 10 official categories – and lots of foodies who come to watch.
The Indiana Rye Whiskey designation took effect in 2021 and follows the federal requirements for rye whiskey — a minimum of 51 percent rye in the grain bill, distilled at no greater than 160 proof, placed in a barrel at no more than 125 proof — then adds the Indiana-specific requirements that it be mashed, fermented, distilled and then rested at least two years in the state of Indiana. Hard Truth Distilling in Nashville, Ind., offers a great opportunity to start sampling Indiana rye.
While folks are likely more familiar with Kentucky bourbon, they’ll be hearing more and more about Indiana spirits. The state now has more than 40 distilleries, from large to small. Hard Truth, as it notes on its website, began distilling in 2015 in the small upper rooms of Big Woods Pizza Co. in downtown Nashville, Indiana. The tiny craft distillery quickly grew, and by 2017, construction had begun on a new facility set on a rolling, wooded, 325-acre property about a mile away from Hard Truth’s original home.
That property became the Hard Truth campus, and the Hard Truth Tours & Tastings Center opened its doors to guests at the end of 2017. The following summer, the Restaurant at Hard Truth opened. And, in the fall of 2018, Hard Truth Distilling Co. made the move to its brand new, state-of-the-art, sweet mash distillery, where it’s been producing Hard Truth spirits – including Indiana rye – ever since.
“Rye whiskey is synonymous with the great state of Indiana,” said Hard Truth partner Jim Dunbar. “We are proud to be part of that heritage and tradition.”
In fact, Hard Truth Distilling Co.’s first batch of Sweet Mash Rye Whiskey was named among bourbon curator and taster Fred Minnick’s Top 100 American Whiskeys of 2021 during his annual ranking event.
“Distillers in Indiana have historically produced some of the highest quality rye whiskeys in the world,” said Bryan Smith, master distiller at Hard Truth Hills. “We’re on the forefront of a new era of whiskey-making as sweet mash pioneers here in the state of Indiana, and it is truly an honor to be included on a list with such legendary distillers, especially with our first batch. Crafting the highest quality sweet mash rye and bourbon whiskey in the state of Indiana is at the core of our efforts here at Hard Truth Distilling Co., and our passion for hard work in making world class whiskey really seems to resonate with people. We can’t wait for you to taste the whiskeys yet to come.”
Hard Truth Distillery offers tours, tasting, mixology classes and more, as well as a restaurant and a rental cabin. Find out more here.
You can find out more about other Indiana distilleries, many of which offer tours, tastings and special events, by checking out Indiana Grown’s Distillery Trail, which features 18 of its member distilleries.
Chef Greg Hardesty, who passed away in the spring of 2021, left an indelible legacy through the training and mentoring of many of Indy’s premier chefs at his restaurants H2O Sushi, Elements, Recess and Room 4. To honor this legacy, Culinary Crossroads has helped create the Chef Greg Hardesty Scholarship, which will be awarded annually to Ivy Tech culinary students who demonstrate talent, leadership and dedication to the craft of cooking. Working with the Hardesty family and Ivy Tech, Culinary Crossroads has established an advisory committee to review applications, interview finalists and provide unique internships to carry on Hardesty’s legacy for years to come.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be able to provide the launch pad for the Chef Greg Hardesty Scholarship Fund,” said Larry Dickerson, founder of Culinary Crossroads. “Each and every time we were looking for the best of the best in Indy’s culinary community, Greg’s name was at the top of the list. And each time we reached out to Greg for his insight, advice and participation, he stepped up. He cooked at our Spring Dinner Series in 2021, just a month before he passed away. Establishing this scholarship and committing our organization to growing the fund is the least we can do to honor someone who made such an incredible contribution to our culinary community.”
Hardesty’s wife, Susan Korte Hardesty, will be involved in the selection of the advisory committee and scholarship recipients.
“Our family is so pleased with the idea of a scholarship to honor Greg,” said Susan Korte Hardesty. “It’s comforting to know there will be an ongoing commitment by Greg’s colleagues, friends and customers to carry on his approach to cooking, his passion for the industry and his love for the culinary community.”
Ivy Tech will begin accepting scholarship applicants in early 2023, with the first award anticipated for the fall semester. The scholarship will be open to students enrolled at the Indianapolis campus, and eventually to students at Ivy Tech’s five additional culinary school campuses. Ivy Tech Community College President Sue Ellspermann said the scholarship will help accelerate Ivy Tech’s commitment to the culinary arts.
“We are honored to be able celebrate Chef Hardesty who guided his employees and colleagues to great professional careers,” said Ellspermann. “We look forward to celebrating the successes of future Hardesty Scholarship recipients and to the advancements that will come about through working with Hardesty Scholarship advisors.”
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.