BY ELIZABETH GRANGER
A lifetime of kitchen experiences focusing on a solid culinary foundation, quality ingredients and attention to detail, paired with a desire to continually grow: a recipe for dining success.
SHELBYVILLE – A small mom and pop Italian restaurant near Dallas, Texas, is huge in Ashley Archer’s memory. It’s there, he says, in Frank Martone’s frenzied kitchen, that he found a respite from the chaos of his home life. He found order, guidance, affection, and ultimately a love for his life’s career.
As executive chef at Indiana Grand Racing and Casino in Shelbyville, Archer credits his early work in restaurants as a catalyst for the success he enjoys today, both personally and professionally. “Frank Martone taught me so much about cooking but even more about life,” Archer says. “I’d worked there for a year, and he’d never let me make a pizza. I was 13 and full of arrogance and bravado and confused, all at the same time. He said, ‘You don’t watch, you don’t listen, you think you know everything.’”
“Finally he called my bluff. Out of the sequence of five steps, I made mistakes on three. It was the attention to detail. I was obviously defeated and put back in my place, and I went back to mopping the floors.”
But, he adds, “It motivated me. It inspired me to learn how to do things the right way.”
He was feeling his way through life and finding people to help along the way. “I wanted to be successful, but I didn’t know what success looked like.” But he started to get an idea – a feeling, actually – that ultimately came into focus when he left college to help care for his dad, who was dying from a brain tumor. “My takeaway from my dad? Know what your simple things are; have a sense of appreciation.”
Archer wanted to be the first in his family to finish high school and college, and he did. In his last semester, when he was student teaching with the idea of being a history teacher and football coach, he went to work as a restaurant server to make a little money. “They got to hurting in the kitchen and I went back there to help out,” he says. It was a training restaurant for a national chain. He became a certified corporate trainer, and his climb up the ladder began. It proved to be a rapid climb with a variety of positions in a variety of locales – Texas, Alabama, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, California, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, ….
And then came what he calls “the pivotal point in my career.” He was scheduled to take a new position when he had a “been-there- done-that” moment. He passed on the opportunity and that’s when karma connected him with Centaur Gaming, owner of Indiana Grand Racing & Casino in Shelbyville and Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Anderson. “I was looking for an opportunity with a company that shares that same passions and values as I do,” he says.
His focus had changed. “It’s not so much about me anymore,” he says. “I want to do really good food. And I want to help people. I want to give them opportunities to succeed beyond what they thought they could. I want to be able to give people a chance because people gave me a chance.” And Archer does just that; as executive chef at Indiana Grand, he not only develops recipes and oversees the culinary talent in Indiana Grand’s high-end restaurant Center Cut -featuring steaks, seafood and martinis – but manages every food outlet at the property.
With a keen attention to quality, Archer believes in using the freshest ingredients available. So much so, that he manages a garden on the grounds, growing produce used in many of the recipes.
While beef takes center stage at Center Cut (a must-try is the coffee crusted New York strip served with port braised shallots, mascarpone polenta, and charred cauliflower), Archer’s creativity can be seen in other dishes like the potato chip crusted walleye served with warm horseradish potato salad, or the Miller Farms chicken side dish of Amaretto roasted sweet potato purée.
And if you ask Archer about his favorite dish to prepare for his guests? “Instead of picking a favorite dish I will pick a favorite station: Sauté. Something about the challenge of searing or caramelizing items correctly or making a great polenta.
That presents many challenges and executing effectively provides so much confidence and enjoyment for me.”
Indiana Grand Racing & Casino
4300 N. Michigan Road • Shelbyville, Ind.