ork up an appetite, tie on a bib and get ready for the food-centric event of the year.
Plates of mushroom ragoût with gnocchi, jowl bacon and smoked corn coulis will be set out to try. Sample roasted elk with corn and pickled jalapeño, beer-braised serrano lamb sausage and grilled peach shortcake with honey lavender crème.
Cool off with a crimson coffee soda or honey-blossom creme soda.
Foodie heaven comes to central Indiana this weekend, when 48 chefs unveil their locally sourced, locally created dishes at the annual Taste of Indiana. Representatives from some of the region’s top restaurants will pass out their food, matching their talent for culinary arts with the quality of Hoosier farm goods.
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More than 80 dishes and drinks from top chefs, breweries and wineries will be available for those whose tastes are daring — and substantial — enough.
“It celebrates Indiana’s bounty,” said Thom England, executive director of Dig IN. “We bring together restaurants and farmers from around the state so people can try everything that’s grown and raised here in Indiana.”
This will be Taxman Brewing Co.’s first year taking part in the food portion of the Taste of Indiana. Though the brewery passed out samples of its beer in 2014, its gastropub had not yet opened up.
Chef Joseph Tabor is using the opportunity to add a gourmet twist to a childhood classic.
On the surface, his dish is just cheese and crackers. But this isn’t Cheez Whiz and Ritz Crackers.
Tabor has created a light, airy cracker made of Indiana corn and tomato. On top of that, he has sourced Muenster from Fair Oaks Farms and Steckler Grassfed raw cheddar, garnished with habanero-raspberry jam and smoked pork collar from Gunthorp Farms in Lagrange.
“A lot of people at Dig IN shy away from using cheese, but there are a lot of good dairies that do a lot of really good cheeses that people don’t know about,” he said. “As a kid, I grew up eating cheese and crackers, and this is more of an upscale version of it.”
Tabor’s interpretation of the dish fits directly into the vision of Taste of Indiana and Dig IN.
Dig IN is a nonprofit organization founded to promote and educate about food production in Indiana. The goal is to increase awareness of the diversity in Indiana’s agriculture and culinary arts, creating connections between the two to enhance economic development.
“One of our major focuses both on the gastropub and the brewery side is farm-to-table. We’re located in a rural area, and surrounded by a lot of great farms and farmers,” said Leah Huelsebusch, co-owner of Taxman Brewing. “What is so great about Dig IN is the slow-food focus.”
Those involved in the group see a tragedy of waste stemming from residents’ reliance on importing food from elsewhere in the country.
“We throw away half of the food that we grow in Indiana. That’s because it doesn’t sell or it doesn’t look right. There are a lot of different reasons,” England said. “We can definitely use that food still, but there’s no consumer demand for it anymore.”
If each family in Indiana would spent $4.50 on state-grown food each week, it would create an additional $1.5 billion impact on the state, England said. And it would not require farmers to grow any additional food.
“We already produce that much. Most people realize we grow corn and soybeans that’s not really for human consumption as much,” England said. “But we grow a lot more than that. We want to get the word out on that.”
The group works to connect restaurant owners and chefs with the state’s farmers. Once the people who make the food have these quality Indiana ingredients in their hands, they have a better understanding of what makes local food superior, England said.
The group’s showcase event is Taste of Indiana, now in its sixth year.
“All of the seasons are coming together right now. We have the end of summer produce and the early fall season starting. This is really when we see nature’s bounty,” England said. “We can have all of those great squashes and tomatoes to grow, and also have some pumpkins and watermelons that show up at the end of the season.”
What makes Taste of Indiana unique is that it’s a farm-to-festival event, England said. Organizers source food from more than 20 farmers and producers throughout the state to get produce, seafood, meat and other ingredients.
That food is brought directly to local chefs to put together unique, Indiana-centric dishes for the public to sample.
“When you know your neighbor and you know your food, it’s a better situation,” England said. “This is an agricultural event, truly showing that it’s not about how your food is cooked, it’s how it’s grown.”
The festival charges upfront to enter the event, but once you’re in, people can sample as much of the food, beer and wine available at no additional cost. The 48 chefs have created samples of their signature dishes for people to try.
“We get to spread our foods to a wide audience and get to raise awareness about some local ingredients that we get to use,” chef Alexa Lemley said.
This will be the third year that Lemley and Samantha Aulick will take part in the festival. The Taylorsville duo own artisan marshmallow maker 240sweet and its savory companion catering company, Artisan Foodworks.
In the past, they’ve cooked up chicken thighs with marshmallow-based barbecue sauce and duck. This time around, Lemley has dreamed up whole barbecued goat on a handmade corncake with micro-cilantro salsa.
“I love goat, and I’m really trying to raise awareness. It’s the most popular meat in the world, but you don’t see a lot of it in our area,” Lemley said. “This is my way to spread some awareness and some deliciousness to people all around.”
Since organizers know the size of the samples they’ll be serving, they estimate that to try everything at the festival would result in eating about seven pounds of food.
“I don’t know anyone who’s made it all the way through. There have been several who have claimed they have, but I doubt it,” England said.
But like any good meal, the Taste of Indiana goes beyond simply the food.
Craft breweries such as Taxman, Three Floyds Brewing and Brugge Brasserie will pour samples of their beers. Bargersville’s Mallow Run Winery and 10 other wineries will provide tastes of the products.
Indiana Artisans such as Inga’s Popcorn and Boyd’s Fudge will serve as well.
Bands will playg throughout the park, seating and relaxation stations will be set up to stop and try your goodies, and a competition will determine the best Indiana sous chef.
“We want to have it all in one place for people,” England said.
What: Dig In, a Taste of Indiana 2015
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: White River State Park, 801 W. Washington St., Indianapolis
Tickets: $45 for general admission, $60 for early admission after 11 a.m., $120 for VIP.
Where to buy: digindiana.org or at the gate, while tickets last.