Raising the Bar: Local Ladies Leading the Way
Title: Co-owner/Chef, Rail Epicurean Market
Family: Husband, Toby; kids, Luke, Emma and Redding
Favorite thing to cook: Tortilla Española and gazpacho
Least favorite thing to cook: Chicken
Favorite food: “I know this isn’t very gourmet, but nachos are my favorite.”
What she orders here in Indy: Egg rolls from Super Bowl Pho, coq au vin or suckling pig at Oakley’s Bistro, Caesar salad with blackened salmon from Local Eatery and Pub and Sam’s Benedict with the zucchini fritters at Tulip Noir.
First food job: Dairy Queen
Dream job: “I’m doing it now at Rail.”
Edible Indy: What does a typical workday look like for you?
Melanie Miles: I get in early in the morning to make pastries and prep for lunch. Sometimes I help with lunch service; sometimes I’m in my office working on finances. During dinner service, Toby and I trade off. Some nights, I cook dinner with our sous-chef, Mike; other nights, I act as front-of-the-house manager. When we started, it was just Toby and me, so we are used to doing whatever needs to be done.
EI: Tell us about your culinary background.
MM: I started out in the music business in Nashville, Tennessee, but had to make a career change just a few years after graduating from college when I moved back to Indiana. I thought about opening a restaurant, so I enrolled in culinary school at Ivy Tech to learn classic cooking techniques and the business side of the food industry.
EI: What’s your cooking style?
MM: I’m inspired by Indiana comfort food and Western European cuisine. I like to take these two aspects and combine them.
EI: What are you most proud of accomplishing?
MM: Opening Rail while eight months pregnant, and making it this far working side-by-side with my husband every day and raising three kids.
EI: Any local female chefs you particularly admire?
MM: I worked for two very talented women chefs—Keltie Domina, owner of Keltie’s restaurant (which was located in Westfield and is now closed) and Rachanee Keovorabouth, executive chef at Thomas Caterers (Indianapolis). They showed me how working hard and being a strong leader is vital and earns respect from men and women alike.
Rail Epicurean Market
Title: Executive Chef at R Bistro
Family: One dog, two cats
Favorite thing to cook: Seasonal produce and Middle Eastern food
Least favorite thing to cook: Liver
Favorite food: “I could eat pizza every day.”
What she orders here in Indy: Steamed pork buns at Rook, salads at Black Market, vegetarian thalis (a set meal consisting of regional delicacies) from various Indian joints
First food job: Pizza King in Muncie
Dream job: “I’m usually quite content with what I’m doing, but some days I think a dream job would consist of touring with a favorite band and acting as their chef from city to city. I also dream of running a bed & breakfast kitchen, cooking from the garden and barnyard.”
Edible Indy: How do you spend your day at R Bistro?
Erin Kem: Mondays are a “mental day,” solidifying the week’s menu, planning and ordering. Tuesday is more physically demanding, prepping the week’s menu and having it ready by service. The rest of the week is lighter prep, cooking on the line at dinner, then starting the planning all over again for the next week’s brand new menu! Sundays are a sacred day off.
EI: How did you get into cooking?
EK: I cooked as a hobby from my teens into my 20s; after a year in France, I decided I wanted to go to culinary school. I attended the New England Culinary Institute in Burlington, Vermont at age 27 after already receiving a B.A. from Ball State, and I cooked in Germany for six months at the end of my education.
EI: What’s your culinary mantra?
EK: Fresh, local, simple. I embrace the French technique, but more Alice Waters than Julia Child. I want the ingredients to shine without distracting frills and gimmicks.
EI: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a chef?
EK: Balancing professional and personal life is a bear in this business. My family and friends know that my hours suck, so they always have to work around my schedule when it comes to a social life. I have to set aside time when work is off limits.
EI: What are your thoughts on women within Indy’s restaurant scene?
EK: At times, I feel like it’s still somewhat of a boys club. However, there are plenty of local women in charge of kitchens and food-related businesses—a remarkable change even from 13 years ago when I moved to Indy.
Title: Director of Operations and Wine Director, Neal Brown Hospitality Group
Family: Husband, Rob; daughter, Jack; schnauzer mutt, Charlie
Favorite thing to cook: Fresh, simple vegetable salads
Least favorite thing to cook: Caramel sauces. “I always burn them, and not in that good burnt-caramel kind of way.”
Favorite food: Dry-aged rib eye, seared rare in a cast-iron skillet
What she orders: Rook’s mushroom XO dumplings, the roasted cauliflower at Bluebeard or a big bowl of Italian mussels at Pizzology
First food-related job: Pantry/pastry cook at Sola Restaurant in Chicago
Her dream restaurant: “An enoteca-style wine tavern with emphasis on accessibility and educating the guest. Instead of just local wines, it would feature global wines at all price ranges and simple dishes to complement them.”
Edible Indy: How did you get to where you are today?
Erin Till: I helped open the original Pizzology in Carmel in 2009 as the sous-chef. (Till also interned in 2008 for Neal Brown at L’explorateur, which was located in Broad Ripple in Indianapolis and is now closed, while attending culinary school at Kendall College.) At Pizzology, I moved from sous to chef within a few months, then helped open the Libertine as the chef de cuisine in 2011.
EI: How would you describe your style of cooking?
ET: Western European, but on the simple side. My food at the Libertine was rather simple, yet somewhat elegant in a feminine sort of way. While I enjoy eating works of art, accessibility has always been important to me.
EI: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a chef?
ET: Motherhood. After having a child, my priorities completely shifted. Chef hours and commitment were no longer conducive to being the kind of parent I wanted to be. My peers are doing some amazing stuff right now, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit jealous! During these last couple of years I’ve shifted my focus not only to wine, but also to developing our hospitality group into something awesome.
EI: Thoughts on the roles of female chefs within the local food industry?
ET: There are some great women doing fantastic work in Indy’s food scene, but I’d love to see more.
Neal Brown Hospitality