What’s next for northeast Indiana’s food scene? Ask Ivy Tech

If you’ve ever thought about becoming a chef or opening your own restaurant, you might have wondered where to start?

One culinary program in northeast Indiana has contributed to the rise of many regional chefs and restaurants today: Ivy Tech’s Hospitality Administration program.

While you might not immediately associate the college with Fort Wayne’s growing food scene, it is here that many chefs have gone to school—or back to school—to get the training to launch their own ventures, says Program Chair Amanda Parkinson.

“Our campus has a lot of second-career students, and a lot of times, the second-career students are the entrepreneurs,” Parkinson explains. “There’s a lot of high-ranking chefs in town who have gone through Ivy Tech, too.”

So what’s the secret sauce to creating a successful culinary program?

Parkinson believes it’s a combination of hands-on experience, encouraging creativity, and giving students practical advice to succeed in the modern kitchen.

As part of the program, students run their own food truck, café, and classical French cuisine pop-up restaurant on campus (which is open for two more Thursdays this month).

Its professors are often working chefs, too.

“A lot of our staff has been in the industry, so when they come in, they have their own personal experience to share with students,” Parkinson says. “Change is so fast in the culinary industry; our staff helps students adapt to what’s out there now.”

Here are three northeast Indiana restaurants whose chefs have gone through training at Ivy Tech and are now carving a niche for themselves in the culinary industry.

 

Joseph Decuis in Roanoke

Chef Marcus Daniel

Chef Marcus Daniel at Joseph Decuis previously worked in New York.
  1. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in northeast Indiana’s culinary scene today.

I grew up on the South Side of Fort Wayne, and I am now the Executive Chef at Joseph Decuis.

After I graduated from Ivy Tech, I worked around Fort Wayne for a little bit. Then I moved to Chicago and cooked out there for a little bit. I also lived in California and cooked there for 2-3 years.

After California, I moved to New York, and I was in NY for a total of about four years. I was living in Astoria, Queens, and the restaurants I worked at were in Manhattan midtown.

I was a sous chef at a restaurant called the John Dory Oyster Bar first. I worked for a Michelin-star chef there who won Best Chef in New York at the time. It was 250 people a night—getting yelled at, sweating, burning yourself, cutting yourself. 

After the Dory, I moved onto another restaurant in the company: the Breslin. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot, but I had family things going on, so I had to move back to northeast Indiana.

I started working at Joseph Decuis at the beginning of December 2016, and then I became the Executive Chef in February 2017.

When people ask me about our food here, I tell them it tastes good. I try to make it as pretty as possible, but it’s very simple in plating—no bells and whistles. I just try to make everything taste as good as possible.

About a year after I became Executive Chef at Joseph Decuis, we were invited to cook at the James Beard House back in New York, so it was fun to go back. I got to work in one of the old kitchens where I used to prep food, so it was reuniting.

Chef Marcus Daniel prepares a dish.

  1. What initially inspired you to go into the food and hospitality industry?

I always did a lot of cooking at home. My mom was a single mother, so I started cooking breakfast and dinner. I started to experiment with different seasonings when I made spaghetti. I watched a lot of Food Network. I loved the “Iron Chef” (when it used to be good).

Once I got into cooking, I liked it, and I was pretty good at it. I definitely liked practicing cooking, too. Every Sunday when I was in school, I would make a big brunch for my family, clean up all the dishes, and then start making dinner.

  1. When did you attend/graduate from the Ivy Tech’s Hospitality Administration program and what was your area of focus?

I went to Ivy Tech and started cooking there at age 19. I was mainly interested in the culinary arts in school, not the pastry side of things at the time.

Through my travels after school, I learned pastries and how to make bread, and back in October, we started making our own bread in house at Joseph Decuis and selling it.

  1. What did you learn in school that has stuck with you throughout your career?

School taught me the basics—a little history of cooking and classical techniques. It opened my eyes to a variety of foods I did not know about until I started.

One thing I remember is that I didn’t like blue cheese until I started school, and the reason I started liking it was because I ate blue cheese with a grape. It was the contrast in the flavors—the richness and sweetness and everything that goes along with it.

I probably gained 10 pounds in school.

  1. What are some of the places in northeast Indiana where you like to eat or places that inspire you?

I go to Junk Ditch a lot. They do a good job. I also go to Seoul Garden, which is a Korean spot, and Mahnin, which is a Burmese place.

As far as inspiration goes, I’ve gotten most of my inspiration from my travels and my time in other cities.

  1. How would you describe Fort Wayne’s food scene to someone who hasn’t been here before?

It’s coming up. It would be nice to have fewer of the big chains and see more people embracing local. It would also be nice to see more local restaurants trying different things. There’s a number of restaurants you go to here, and they have the same things on the menu.

  1. What’s something about your work that most people in Fort Wayne might not know about?

The Wagyu is something Joseph Decuis is known for, but we really do as much inhouse as we can.

As I mentioned before, we make our own bread, and we make cultured butter for it. We’ve been making and grinding our own burgers in house, and we've started making buns for the burgers.

We also cater to a lot of vegetarians. Our General Manager, Laura, has been a vegetarian for years, and she says it’s hard to go to other restaurants in Indiana because all she can really get is side dishes, like a salad.

Joseph Decuis serves roasted winter veggies: sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, pomegranate, creme fraiche, and cashew.

At Joseph Decuis, we have a lot of options, and we incorporate a lot of different influences in our food—just through my travels and the other cooks’ travels and research development.

A lot of different things go into our food.

  1. What do you envision for the future of your business—and the city’s food scene, in general?

For Joseph Decuis, I would just like more people from Fort Wayne and other nearby cities make the trip to Roanoke. We’re only 20 minutes from Fort Wayne, and it isn’t that far. I used to walk a half-mile to a train and take two trains to get to the restaurant where I worked in New York. It’s easy to hop in your car and drive here for a meal.

I’d also encourage customers to try at least one new thing when they go out to eat. I’m always happy when people are coming to Joseph Decuis not only for the atmosphere and for the steak, but also, they’re being adventurous.

I think Fort Wayne could use more of that.

Patrons browse the menu at Joseph Decuis restaurant.

  1. What advice would you give other aspiring culinary entrepreneurs in northeast Indiana?

Go as far as you can—travel, move. Even though Fort Wayne is coming up, there’s so much culture to experience outside of this city. I think it would really help open your eyes and be more accepting of trying different things.

You have to get out. Chicago is only three hours away, and it’s full of so much culture and so many opportunities. I still go there and work for free sometimes. I’ve helped out at restaurants like the Publican and Schwa just to get more experience and keep up my game.

 

Caruso’s in Angola

Chefs Liat Peters and Lisa Caruso

Liat Peters and Lisa Caruso are sisters in the Caruso family.
  1. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in northeast Indiana’s culinary scene today.

We own and operate Caruso’s Restaurant in Angola, Ind., which began in 1976 with our parents.

  1. What initially inspired you to go into the food and hospitality industry?

We grew up working in our parents’ restaurant and have always had a passion for cooking.

  1. When did you attend/graduate from the Ivy Tech’s Hospitality Administration program and what were your area(s) of focus?

We had a desire to be classically trained to enhance and expand our menu and our catering. Lisa’s area of focus was culinary, and Liat’s was baking and pastry.

  1. What did you learn in school that has stuck with you throughout your career?

Three concepts stand out: Learning knife skills, learning and understanding the five Mother Sauces, and being able to execute Escoffier’s techniques.

  1. Who are some other chefs and culinary creators in northeast Indiana who inspire you?

There are five chefs who were our instructors at Ivy Tech that we found inspiring.

Chef Jeff Bunting taught our first class which was Basic Foods. We began at Ivy Tech when we were in our 40s. Jeff’s style of teaching and his temperament confirmed that we would benefit from the program.

Chef Bun Lim’s endless ideas for creativity and his love of food endeared us to him.

Chef Aaron Parkinson helped us with our externship by working with us in our kitchen at Caruso’s.

Chef Jerry Wilson… a legend!

Chef Cheryl Hirtzemann taught us the beauty of perfection in baking.

  1. How would you describe Fort Wayne’s food scene to someone who hasn’t been here before?
 

The privately-owned restaurants that have recently entered the Fort Wayne market offer variety, authenticity, and excitement to dining out.

  1. What’s something about your work that most people in Fort Wayne might not know about?

We are a farm-to-table restaurant that cooks locally sourced food without preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup.

Caruso's offers a variety of Italian-style dishes.

  1. What do you envision for the future of your business—and the city’s food scene, in general?

We aspire to be one of the leading privately-owned restaurants in Steuben County for another 40 years.

  1. What advice would you give other aspiring culinary entrepreneurs in northeast Indiana?

You have to work in the industry and LOVE IT before pursuing your own restaurant. Also, formal culinary training will enhance your confidence in yourself and your customers.

 

Blue Moon Bakery in Columbia City

Chef Tony Flanagan

Tony Flanagan, left, owns Blue Moon Bakery with his wife, Jenn, right.
  1. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in northeast Indaina’s culinary scene today.

My wife, Jenn, and I own and operate Blue Moon Bakery in downtown Columbia City. We’ve lived in Columbia City for about 16 years, and our bakery will be celebrating two years in June 2020. I’m the baker, and Jenn has a background in financing, so she’s my front-of-the-house.

Since I’m a full-time stay-at-home dad right now, we’re only open on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. until we sell out. The name for the bakery actually comes from our marriage. We got married on a blue moon—the second full moon of July. But customers like to joke that we’re also only opened on a blue moon, too.

As far as the products go, our goal is to offer the freshest food we can. Our biggest sellers right now are cinnamon and peakon rolls. The idea is that it’s more of an old school bakery with rolls and scones. We also have an assortment of brownies and fruit bars, and we’ve offered lemon bars and cherry bars. We try to stay seasonal with flavors.

Chocolate covered strawberry cheesecake at Blue Moon Bakery.

I make an apple tart called a galette (a flat round pastry), and it’s made from apples I get locally. We try to support local as much as we can. We do breads, too: A baguette, an Amish white, and a honey wheat.

We’ve gotten really good response from the community so far. We don’t do any advertising outside of social media, but we’ve got a big word of mouth following.

Another thing that helps us out is that we own the building that our bakery is in, and it has rental apartments above it.

  1. What initially inspired you to go into the food and hospitality industry?

I’m 44, so I got into it a little bit later than most people do. I actually started as a cake decorator after my daughter was born. I quit my job as a graphic designer to be a stay-at-home dad, and I started decorating cakes.

When our daughter started preschool, I decided to go to culinary school. My wife and I had always played around with the idea of having a brick-and-mortar place, so school was a logical step for it.

When I was doing research, I saw that Ivy Tech offered a culinary program, and when I compared it to other bigger programs it matched up pretty well at a fraction of the cost, so I ended up signing up for school basically on a whim. But it had been a few years since I was in college, so it was an adventure, for sure.

  1. When did you attend/graduate from the Ivy Tech’s Hospitality Administration program and what was your area(s) of focus?

I graduated in 2015. While I was in school, I fell in love with the pastry side of things, so I’ve moved away from cakes and focused on pastries and bread making.

  1. What did you learn in school that has stuck with you throughout your career?

When I go to work, I put my chef coat on, and I try to keep the bakery really clean. Everything is wiped down, so when the health inspector comes in, she’s amazed how clean it is.

There’s a certain ideal and attention to detail to take care of stuff. Your equipment is important. That’s what’s stuck with me throughout school: Maintain your stuff, and keep a level of professionalism about your work.

Teamwork is also big. It’s a team effort here.

  1. Who are some other chefs and culinary creators in northeast Indiana who inspire you?

GK Baked Goods. I’ve never worked with her, but she’s definitely someone who a lot of people in the local bakery scene strive to be like. She is successful and does a really good job at Junk Ditch.

In Columbia City, one reason we chose to open a bakery downtown was because there hasn’t been an actual bakery in town since the 1960s, so we took advantage of that. We know people who used to go to that bakery, and they still talk about it, so they were happy to see us open.

  1. How would you describe Fort Wayne’s food scene to someone who hasn’t been here before?

I would say restaurants are popping up all the time, which is awesome. I like the trend of local breweries that serve food, too. You can go to any small town now and find a brewery or a winery.

The food scene is healthy. It’s emerging. You can find some very trendy restaurants, and they’re up to the times of what’s happening and making high-quality food.

  1. What’s something about your work that most people in Fort Wayne might not know about?

We might be open on Wednesdays soon. We have a student who graduated from Ivy Tech last year who is helping us out two days a week now, so we’re hoping to be open for two days a week, starting later in 2020.

  1. What do you envision for the future of your business—and the city’s food scene, in general?

I’m on the Main Street Association in Columbia City called Columbia City Connect, and one of the big things we’re trying to focus on now is getting more restaurants and retail places downtown so people can come downtown and spend the day. I hope that happens.

  1. What advice would you give other aspiring culinary entrepreneurs in northeast Indiana?

Stay true to yourself. What I mean by that is, if your goal is to only be open on Saturdays, don’t fall into the pressure of customers who want you to be open five days a week. If you want to be successful and not burn out, you have to set boundaries. You have to have a goal in sight, but also have enough discipline, so you don’t overdo yourself.

You have to find that balance and stick with it. You can’t extend yourself too far.
 

Experience food by Ivy Tech's current students

The next big name in local food could be a student at Ivy Tech now—and lucky for the public, there are ways to get an early taste of their talent.

Ivy Tech's hospitality administration students run their own food truck called Grasshopper in Fort Wayne and operate Kelty's Kafe on campus. Follow their Facebook page for details.

The school's classical French cuisine pop-up restaurant is open six Thursdays of the spring semester in Ivy Tech's Hospitality Room (3800 N. Anthony Blvd. in Fort Wayne). Reservations are required, and two more dinners are available in 2020: Feb. 20 and Feb. 27.

Tickets are $20 per person. To reserve your seat and learn more, visit the school's website.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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