Indiana’s Top Chefs Featuring Dan and Amber Grunden at Harrison Lake Country Club

BY BARNEY QUICK

The values that are central to the lives of Dan and Amber Grunden – awe at the bounty and variety the earth brings forth, teamwork, and creating art – are present in every plate enjoyed by the members at Harrison Lake Country Club in Columbus. Like so many husband-and-wife culinary teams, they each started out expressing themselves in other art forms. Once they came together, however, they made a life centered around the entire process of creating food, from seeds and animals to dishes that dazzle visually and synthesize flavors memorably. Dan is the club’s executive chef, and Amber is the pastry chef. Additionally, she makes the salad dressings from scratch. They live on a one-acre plot of land about ten minutes away that they call Veritas Homestead. Don’t draw preconceptions about the size; it’s a fully functioning farm, on which a multitude of chickens, three milking goats, and two breeding pigs (as well as several dogs and cats) roam, and from which the Grundens harvest, year-round, 86 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, such spinach varieties as Malabar, Okinawan and longevity, and various tropical fruits. The plants are grown in a greenhouse they found last year at an online auction. They employ permaculture and back-to-Eden techniques, by which they can grow any crops they desire no matter the weather. Because they put in long hours at the club and have chores beckoning when they get home, they are committed to a melding of work and life. “No, we don’t take vacations, but we are ecstatic when we have a couple of days off,” says Dan.

10847863_880695921993228_1558950043834796521_n

Dan, a Columbus native, earned a BFA in computer animation at the Illinois Institute of Art. He returned to Columbus to be near family and because it has, as he puts it, “little big city” appeal. “I thought I might work at a local graphics company, but I got hired as a busser at Bistro 310, an establishment that was a downtown Columbus fixture for many years. “I moved up to being a server and became really interested in what we were trying to do. The chef would explain each night’s special, going into the history of it, and I liked passing that along to my tables. He was also willing to answer my questions about technique. I remember wondering how he got his salmon crispy. I practiced at home until I had it down.” He eventually rose to being assistant manager. Then the country club needed a food and beverage director, and he was hired, a move he calls “a big jump.” Amber, a native of Clayton, Indiana, studied photojournalism at Indiana University and worked at a portrait studio. She met Dan on match.com and, along with marrying him, formed the team that makes Veritas Homestead and the country club kitchen such magical places. “I spent a significant amount of money on art school, and as I think about it, I do use what I learned in my current life,” says Dan. “You have to think about color theory and filling space, and it really applies to plating.” There is a connection between serving regulars and maximizing the freshness of the dishes’ ingredients, according to Dan: “Since it’s a private club, I’m basically cooking for the same people every week, so we’ve gone to weekly menus. That allows me to use what we have available from the farm.” The farm’s name is a testament to their commitment to their practices, says Dan. “Veritas is Latin for truth, and we strive to stick to the truth about being organic and sustainable.” Amber says there’s a deep satisfaction in being the steward of the life cycle of a food item: “We watch something grow from a seed to the stage where it’s put on a plate. That process is really our whole life.” Want to follow Dan and Amber’s progress on the homestead? Follow them on instagram, instagram.com/veritashomestead.

Harrison Lake Country Club 588 Country Club Rd, Columbus, IN 47201 Phone: (812) 342-4457 HarrisonLakeclub.com