Reads, Writes, Eats and Cooks
Dear Hungry Philosophers,
Please join us for what promises to be a wonderful discussion about GLOBAL FOOD from our local perspective: October 22nd, 3:30-5:30 pm. Nelson Hall 1215, Purdue University.
I would like to thank our panelists for their willingness to share their time and experience with us. Below is a brief introduction to each restaurant and associated panelist. They have much to teach us about making ourselves at home by serving, learning and eating together. For more, please join us in our efforts to extend local goodwill through global food.
Crafted, complex and whole are the words Kristen Serrano uses to describe La Scala, a Lafayette Indiana Italian restaurant that she co-owns with her chef-owner husband, Francisco Serrano. Every dish is freshly crafted to order and aims for complex layered tastes. The board at the entrance shows that every effort is made to source from local farms. Extending and centering on this principle of celebrating local produce and products, the couple, also opened Restauration.
Growing up in an Ohio home with an one-acre yard, Kirsten learned to appreciate home grown, cooked and baked foods early. The connection to soil, ground, earth, land (she repeats these words through out our conversation) is important enough for her to live and work on a 5-acre farm now. This nature focused gastronomic DNA serves both La Scala and Restauration well.
It was, however, family food allergies and dietary limitations that pushed Kirsten to learn more about healthy foods and implement her knowledge of holistic nutrition at the restaurants. Restauration, dedicated to their daughter, champions the cause of allergen free, simple, creative and grounded eating.
Due to a nightshade allergy Kirsten can no longer enjoy her favorite eggplant parmesan. However, now she does enjoy the pork steak at Restauration sourced from Sheepdog Farms, brined in apple cider and served with a cider reduction. The dish represents the principles of a simple entree, locally grounded ingredients and creative technique (she credits chef Alex Hernandez).
The Serrano family evolution from La Scala (2000) to Restauration (2015) is a telling example of American transnational food experimenting between old world tastes and a new world of local eating.
When looking for a space in West Lafayette to open his Thai restaurant, Chef Ake recalls the confusion of the real estate agent who asked, “What is Thai Food?,” “Is it rice? Or noodles?” Undeterred by the agent’s discouraging attitude, Chef Ake continued his search. Almost by accident he and his wife Nan discovered the location of Basil Thai when they stopped at bubble tea shop up for sale in Chauncey (where they continue to sell bubble tea now). That was over ten years ago. Now they have another location, Thai Essence, with essentially the same food served in a fine dining atmosphere.
Chef Ake owes his confidence in opening a Thai restaurant in small town Indiana to a keen understanding of students having catered many university events (where he was also a student working on a MFA), as well as having worked as a private chef. For him, running the restaurants requires earning the trust of his customers, taking ownership for all details no matter how small and a willingness to learn and adapt.
Basil Thai and Thai Essence are products of the classic American immigrant drive that involves the journey of a well-established film-maker who wanted better, moved to the U.S., worked through a variety of grueling jobs, between jobs out of sheer determination earned a graduate degree and in the process became a business owner and a cultural translator. Given his own difficult students days, one can understand his particular attention to serving student needs. For example, even in our short conversation in preparation for the panel discussion, Chef Ake’s primary concern was making sure we would have hand sanitizer and napkins to ensure no student would get sick. With a caring and generous spirit, he and his wife, Nan, through Basil Thai and Thai Essence are feeding and building a community of adventurous and at home, eaters.
Himanshu and Minal Bhatt relocated, seven years ago, from Orlando (where they owned two Indian street food restaurants) urged by their Purdue-attending son. A familial quality infuses the restaurant. You will find them both running the register, cooking and explaining the menu, as needed. This is an exemplar of a mom and pop store (who happens to be immigrant Indian). The street food menu represents all the regions of India, giving non-South Asians a broad introduction but also South Asians the possibility to enjoy unfamiliar regional tastes. It is a place for casual, fresh food to be enjoyed with friends. In classic deshi (South Asian) familial style they insisted on feeding me. I didn’t resist or complain. It was delicious.
For the Bhatt’s the restaurant is an extension of their family. Even the name, Shaukin is a combination of the names of their daughter and daughter-in-law. Incidentally, the name also references the Hindi word for favorite or favored. They were most excited and proud to share the notes and glowing reviews from their customers. I won’t be surprised if they have all the comments memorized. They thrive on the energy of happy customers. The menu reflects their kind, fun, joyous and accommodating personalities. This small Indiana town suits them well despite the weather where they find people more accepting and appreciative. Or maybe, that assessment is in part a reflection of their own mindset.
I hope you can join us, October 22nd, 2015 at Purdue and celebrate our very own, small town Indiana, GLOCAL eating!
A very special thanks to Kera Lovell, American Studies Ph.D. student and instructor, for thinking of this and organizing this event!