BLOOMINGTON – No coastline? No problem.
All is fine in Bloomington with No Coast Reserve – NOCO to its regulars who realize they’ve found the epicenter of fresh seafood despite hundreds of miles between their Hoosier home and the ocean.
And in Seth Elgar, they’ve found the quintessential seafood – and more – chef.
“Yes, we are doing a lot of seafood,” Elgar says, “but we are stranded here in the Midwest.”
He says it’s sustainable seafood and in season – what the ocean has to offer. There are also a variety of other proteins through the partnership with Butcher’s Block, NOCO’s parent company.
Elgar is local, having been raised on a small farm in Stanford, near the edge of Monroe County. “With both parents working, it was on us (four boys) to cook dinner a couple nights a week,” he says. “We got home from school, did our homework, and started peeling potatoes.”
Elgar was working in restaurant kitchens by the time
he was 15. “I really liked the aspect of feeding people good food,” he says. It helped him choose culinary school over architecture, and he went to Kendall College in Chicago as well as to Purdue for their culinary and hospitality programs.
He says he can remember a serious conversation with friends, perhaps in his very late teens or early 20s, about life goals. He said he wanted to be an executive chef at a restaurant before he was 30 – and he was, at Upland Brewing in Bloomington. And he said he wanted to have his own concept of a restaurant by the time he was 35—and he was, as executive chef and general manager at NOCO.
He’s big on seafood, meat, fresh, local – and collaboration. “If we want this profession to evolve and want it to survive, with all the mechanization and industrialization that exists within the American food system, people can’t keep secrets anymore,” he says. “The days of chefs hiding things from their cooks – that’s over. If my people didn’t know how to do everything within this restaurant and I were to get got hit by a car, this restaurant would fail.”
He says they “roll with the seasons, trying to showcase what our farmers and producers are doing locally.” It means “freestyling,” or pulling disparate ingredients together in new ways that not only honor the individual foods but build upon long-standing culinary tenets.
Beyond that, he says, it’s working collaboratively with others in the restaurant, making sure they have an outlet as well. “It can’t be just my food, because then there’s no passion behind it on their part.”
So he’s a teacher as well as a chef. If a team member wants to learn how to make something, he tries to incorporate it into the workday. Recently, that meant teaching how to make sausage. And soon, he says, he wants to take his workers on field trips
to other nearby food spots – a coffee roasting site, a farmer’s field, a local greenhouse. “The more all my people know about the product we bring in here, the better they can tell its story,” he says. “It will instill a little more passion and a little more care.”
And he shares. “We run with an open policy. If my people want a recipe so they can cook for their families, they have free license to do that. I tell them as long as I don’t see them serving my food in another restaurant here in town, that’s fine.”
Elgar says it’s important for people to be in touch with real food, and in recent years “the desire to find out about food has blossomed.” Fresh and local are increasingly prominent at home as well as in restaurants, and there’s a re-growth in the number of people with gardens and small farms.
“The important thing about food is that it brings people together,” he says.
And because he has concerns about food insecurity—the fact that too many people, even in our own communities, have too little to eat—Elgar is on the Community Kitchen board. “That’s how I give back,” he says. “I sleep better at night because I try to give back to my community.”
His bottom line? “My goal is to leave my industry a little better than when I found it,” he says.
No Coast Reserve (NOCO)
105 N. College Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47404
King Crab & Avocado Mac & Cheese Recipe By Seth Elgar
Special Notes: You could substitute other crab for the king crab, but you won’t get the large meaty chunks.
- 1 box Jumbo pasta shells
- 1 head of roasted garlic
- 2 avocados
- 1# king crab meat (weight w/o the shell, approx. 1.5# in shell)
- 1/2# butter (unsalted)
- 1.5 C Flour
- 2 C white onion (1/2″ dice)
- 1/2 C minced garlic
- 6 C whole milk
- 5 oz cream cheese
- 4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1 1/5 C toasted breadcrumbs
- 1 lemon (cut into 1/4, seeds removed)
- Prepare pasta shells according to instructions on package, cool in ice water to stop the cooking process, drain after 5 minutes
- Place butter, onion, and raw minced garlic in a 4 quart or larger sauce pot, saute the onion & garlic until translucent (3-5 minutes) over medium heat
- Add the flour, whisk into melted butter to make roux (pronounced ROO, thick paste, uniform in consistency)
- Add the milk in, whisk to incorporate and let it simmer for 15 minutes to thicken
- Add the cream cheese and whisk to incorporate, cook on low another 10 minutes
- Season with salt & pepper (Sauce can be refrigerated after cooling, if preparing ahead of when it is needed. Reheat later on low if doing so.)
- Split the avocados and remove the pits, then slice the interiors into 1/4″ pieces and scoop it all out with a spoon. Mash the avocado into a rustic pulp.
- Add the avocado pulp to the cheese sauce along with the pasta shells, toss to coat the shells and cook on low for 2-3 minutes, then add the crab meat.
- Cook on low for 2-3 minutes to thoroughly reheat the crab & noodles.
- Plate the noodles, sauce, and crab into bowls and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top. Garnish with the fresh lemon wedge.
- Wine Pairing: Napa Valley Chardonnay or Washington State Pinot Blanc/Gris
- Craft Beer Pairing: Central State “TABLE” Farmhouse Ale