Breakfast for Two
I have often heard it said that the one meal chefs most often eat with their loved ones is breakfast. That’s the case for Jeff and Candace Finch, owners of Finch’s Brasserie in Bloomington.
In the few hours before they begin dinner service or in the time between shopping locally for ingredients, Jeff and Candace let loose at home with what many call the most important meal of the day: breakfast. Freed from fuss or rules, and with only their own palates to please, they find the habit to be another extension of their creativity.
I recently sat down with them at their home away from home to ask what they enjoyed making for themselves “off the clock” and about the direction they are headed in 2014. I wanted to hear their story and a get a behind-the-curtain glimpse into what they make for themselves when no one is looking.
I imagine some of their favorite dishes are invented in those hours at home. It is a great chance to experiment with new recipes and combinations at their own pace before teaching their experienced kitchen staff. Education and training are key to the success of Finch’s Brasserie, which is evident from the moment you take a seat in their warm and comfortable dining room.
Candace and Jeff Finch came to Indiana from a thriving restaurant in a town in Vermont that boasted the lack of a McDonald’s: Montpelier. Jeff had moved from Michigan to Vermont and attended the New England Culinary Institute, graduating in 1996. Within five days he and Candace, who had earned a degree in architectural design, both began working at the same restaurant, Sarducci’s. With Jeff as sous-chef and Candace running the front of the house, they met and later married. Over the course of 11 years they built a successful dining destination where diners became family and visitors became friends.
“We were lucky enough to throw a party every night for almost everyone we knew. We were in a small town but in spite of that the restaurant grossed over $2 million a year and seated between 300 and 450 people a night,” said Candace about their experience at Sarducci’s.
Jeff and Candace had a regular diner who had a summer home there in Vermont. A Kelley School of Business and Indiana University graduate, he wanted to replicate his dining experience in Vermont back in Bloomington. The couple was asked to make a trip to the Hoosier State to get a feel for the town and its culture—research before deciding to make the big move from Vermont to Indiana. The Bloomington native was able to entice them to move here to help with the project. They later took it over and Finch’s Brasserie was born.
“When we were first romanced to come to Bloomington and start a restaurant project, we were taken to a lot of different places to get a feel for the town. Where we were from it was and still is the only state capital without certain fast-food chains. So when we came here we looked around and wondered where everyone who was like us ate. Where did they enjoy quality food in a comfortable setting? The day we were flying out, we had decided we weren’t going to take the project. We asked to stop by the farmers’ market on the way to the airport. It was then that we looked around and thought, “There are our people. Here they are!” We walked around and talked to people—the farmers and artisans. We realized it was a possibility. The restaurant could sustain itself here,” Candace said.
Steps from the Sample Gates and in the heart of the Bloomington entertainment and arts district, Finch’s has become a home to many, as well as a popular dining spot for my husband and I. In fact, we have been dining there since they opened in their first incarnation: Trulli Flatbread. Sensing that Bloomington did not want local field-to-fork pizza (at that time), the Finches changed the menu and feel to what we now know as Finch’s Brasserie.
They bought the former Discount Den location in April 2008 and Candace designed the interior herself, using architectural elements and reclaimed items of historical significance to the area. She brought themes from Bloomington and the surrounding area to the walls of the restaurant. Like a blank canvas she filled it with highlights of stacked limestone walls, warm wooden floors and one-of-a-kind artwork from local artisans as well as the work of Indiana University neuroscientist Alex Straiker. Unique touches abound, from the historic wallpaper design of Candace Wheeler used in the bathrooms to the bar railing from Discount Den they saved and installed upstairs.
When asked to sum up the method to the restaurant’s success, Chef Jeff Finch explained, “We serve seasonal food first and foremost. We try to use as many local ingredients as possible and we make almost every ingredient in house.”
Leading a kitchen and running a restaurant is a hard job that is far from glamorous and nothing like what you see on television. Take out the bright lights and big names and you are left with a business to run, hungry diners and employees you are responsible for. Taking the time to only hire those who will represent your style and expectations is a must and Finch’s does just that. You not only have to love the art of food and fine dining, you have to live it. Their passion for providing a culinary experience, not just a bite to eat, is evident all around the restaurant.
In 2014 they have restructured their hours of operation to close from 3pm to 5pm, to allow for a break—a chance to sit down for a meal with each other and their employees. Now that they are established and able to take a step back, Jeff and Candace are focusing more on teaching.
“In a town where turnover is so high in this business, we have really been able to retain our employees. We are really proud of that. Probably one of the best things we experience with our staff is that aha moment. Watching it click, seeing their wheels turning. To watch them own it and be able to talk about it at the table. That is success to me.” shared Candace.
“This is the hardest yet most rewarding job I have ever had. You really have to love this to put in the hours that we do. But it’s the best thing” said Candace when I asked about their schedule. So the hours before they step in the restaurant and the meals they can share together in those times are golden. Enter in my interest in what they have for breakfast.
More time outside of the restaurant will lead to more delicious discoveries in their home kitchen. Jeff stepped into the kitchen to make us an example of a pizzetta, which while not on the menu, they make for each other after the night winds down or for an early breakfast. A hand-pressed crust topped with thinly sliced potatoes, arugula, red onion and finished with sunny-side-up eggs and baked in their wood-fired oven. A real chef’s breakfast.