Monday, May 05, 2008

Six Questions for a Chef: Karl Benko

So many of you have asked what Karl is up to these days, here's some info: He's having a blast! We caught up the other day over lunch on the deck at Meridian to hear about how he's doing post-Peterson's. (Our third companion, AJ, fell asleep midway through lunch that we forgave him anyway. He's only a year or so old. ) So, other than becoming the coolest dad in the world, what's Karl up to these days? He's most likely to be found an airport, a consulting gig or in his leadership role with Food University, but he looks just as happy pushing a jogging stroller. Over fish tacos and a Vidal Sauv Blanc, we asked him our 6 Questions:

Q: What's your favorite restaurant/dish in town?

KB: You know, I love Taste. I'm a huge breakfast person and really like what Marc and Dierdre have done with their food in terms of quality. And they're just great people. Either that or we go see Joe at Yat's. If Carrie and I need to grab a quick dinner, we love Yat's.

Q:What is your biggest problem with Indiana diners?

KB: Two things. I call it the "elitist" attitude. People want what they want and when they want it, which is fine, but when they call at 5:00 p.m. and demand a table at 7:00 p.m., they're put off and offended when we tell them, "we're booked, can we make you a reservation for another time or night?" In cities like New York, diners know they can't just call one of the top restaurants and get in. Here if we can't accommodate them, people get huffy and say "Well, we're going to go somewhere else." Hey, I'm will never apologize for being a busy restaurant. We don't apologize for being successful. We apologize because we can't take care for you at *this* particular time.

Secondly, here we are three hours from Chicago and an hour and a half from Cincinnati and we're 15 years behind the dining times of people being open to trying other food.
Q: Do you really think we're 15 years behind?

KB: With the size of population we have compared to other cities our size, we're so far behind the dining times for the size of our market. It makes it really tough for independents and other great businesses where chefs want to explore food.

Q: What's your favorite dish or ingredient you just haven't been able to put on your menu?

KB: I'd love to have more foie gras on menus. And truffles, but this market isn't going to pay $20 for a truffle dish. Caviar is such a great item -- and you almost never see it. And things like uni, right out of the shell. Mmm. Or monkfish liver. I love monkfish liver.

Q: What's your post work routine?
KB: When I was at Peterson's, sometimes I would like to stop by a great neighborhood joint like Binkley's. Now that it's hockey season, I like to get home, make sure the wife and son are in great shape, take a walk through the neighborhood and watch some late night hockey. Maybe open a bottle of wine. As a parent, free time is spent cleaning up stuff from the day, but it's a lot of fun. Getting everything cleaned up for the next thing.

Q: Where's the place you're most likely to be found when you're not in the kitchen or on the road?

KB: With my wife and son at home or at our property in Brown County. (He has a Brown County garden growing herbs, mushrooms, and produce.) I love to go down there. It's my Fortress of Solitude. Not that I'm Superman, but it soothes my soul.


Donald said...

Interesting take on how far behind the dining mindset is. I just hope Chef Benko hasn't given up on Indy and decides to open a new place in the future.

Shelly & Robin said...

I agree about Indy being behind...having lived in other cities and being able to really explore different foods is so amazing. People here don't seem to realize that it's not just food it's an experience. I would gladly drop a few hundred bones for an amazing dining experience!