It is possible to come home again

Chef Daniel Orr: A Return to FARM and Family

By Julie Yates / Photography By Sarah Baghdadi | November 12, 2016
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Chef Daniel Orr and his mother, Mary Lou.
Chef Daniel Orr and his mother, Mary Lou.

Bloomington, the location of Indiana University, is known for its eclectic variety of restaurants, which offer the cuisines of many ethnicities as well as covering the range from bar food to fine dining.

One establishment, award-winning FARMbloomington, has amassed a large following by unabashedly celebrating the fruits of the Hoosier heartland. Patrons are enticed with fresh food prepared in innovative ways and served up in its homestead-like décor. Behind the visible signs of its success is the story of owner and Executive Chef Daniel Orr’s homecoming after following a career path that led him not only out of state, but to exotic places.

Growing up in Columbus with two parents who were foodies before it was fashionable, Chef Orr explored the rural outdoors and connected with nature. As a boy, he experienced firsthand what it was like to take something homegrown right out of the family garden and cook up something honest and delicious. The kitchen was the heart of their home, and Chef Orr was naturally drawn to assisting his parents while they prepared family meals.

“My parents Mary Lou and Tom (nicknamed Lefty) always loved gardening, cooking and winemaking, he said. “They were basically 1960s and ’70s hippies, but without the drugs. My grandparents on my father’s side were first-generation emigrants from Scotland and Poland and suffered through the Depression. They gardened, cooked and canned much of their foods. My grandparents on my mother’s side were farmers from a long line of German and English forefathers in Gibson County. Needless to say, I’ve broken many beans on their porches.”

When Chef Orr reached college age, he was accepted to the prestigious Johnson & Wales University and left the Hoosier state for Rhode Island. Then, after earning a bachelor’s degree in restaurant management, he traveled to France and Belgium, where he climbed up the ranks in several critically acclaimed restaurants. He returned to the U.S. to work in the legendary New York City market. During his tenure as executive chef at La Grenouille, he won a three-star review from The New York Times. On vacations, he traveled to the Caribbean and fell in love with island cuisine. As his charmed life continued, he landed a dream job at CuisinArt Golf Resort and Spa on the eastern Caribbean island, Anguilla.

This story could have ended here as an example of local brain drain, but fortunately it had a happy ending for the folks of Indiana as well as those who come to Bloomington on university business. Chef Orr followed his heart by returning home, and with all of the experience and knowledge he had acquired, opened FARMbloomington in December 2007. For generations, his family has owned a large farm in Princeton and “The name,” he said, “came from me coming back to the farm.”

Throughout all of his adventures and travels he never lost his Indiana roots, nor his appreciation for food prepared from ingredients grown nearby.

“All good cooking begins with good ingredients,” he said, describing his philosophy. “Ninety percent of good food is good shopping; 10 percent is not screwing up what you bought.”

While working in New York, he would rollerblade to the Union Square Market in Manhattan and take local foods to La Grenouille. In Anguilla, he took advantage of the produce raised in the CuisinArt Resort’s organic arable garden, hydroponic farm and Caribbean orchard.

Today, both the menu offerings and the ambience of FARMbloomington reflect the influence of his family.

“The FARMfamous biscuits are fourth-generation Hoosier buttermilk goodness. The fried chicken on Wednesdays is inspired by my Gramma Kolb,” says Orr. “There are many dishes described as Lefty’s favorite in honor of my dad. Mom, at 82, is still inspiring me and the kitchen staff with her organic goodies and her beautiful flowers that go on the tables.”

Also important is the impact of Chef Orr’s beloved Kolb Homestead Farm, which supplies Indiana-grown ingredients to the restaurant.

This tale doesn’t end here, however, since Chef Orr continues to garner awards and attract attention. FARMbloomington’s Lugar Burger was named as the Best Burger in Indiana on Food Network Magazine’s website. The restaurant’s brunch offerings earned it a place on Bon Appetit magazine’s list of favorite breakfast spots in America. He is a contributor to the radio podcast “Earth Eats” on NPR and will soon be featured in the radio program’s upcoming compilation cookbook. And in 2015, Orr was honored to be recognized as a James Beard Foundation nominee for his creativity and originality as a chef.

For those who want to bring a bit of FARMbloomington into their own home, Chef Orr has developed a line of spice mixes as well as written cookbooks. Kitchen D’Orr is a collection of 10 spice blends, some of which reflect his experience in the Caribbean. He is currently working on his fourth cookbook, Sautéing Off the Pounds, which will be co-authored by Dr. Kelly Baute. It will include medical research and is, he confides, “The account of the battle of the bulge that I have been fighting during my 40s and 50s.” His other cookbooks include Real Food, which also shares healthy eating options, and two others that were published right in Bloomington by IU Press: FARMfood and Paradise Kitchen.

Chef Orr sums up his journey back to the Hoosier state by saying, “I believe in sharing the fun and cultural experiences I’ve had throughout my life and throughout the world with my friends back home in Indiana, and the best way I’ve been able to do this is on the plate.”

FARMbloomington |108 E Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington | 812.323.0002 | farm-bloomington.com

Article from Edible Indy at http://edibleindy.ediblecommunities.com/eat/chef-daniel-orr-return-farm-and-family
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