Indiana’s Top Chefs, Summer Edition: The Farmhouse Restaurant

By Elizabeth Granger

Chris Escalante, The Farmhouse Restaurant 

FAIR OAKS, Ind. – From the windows of Fair Oaks Farm’s restaurant, Chris Escalante can look out at the vast expanse of farmland. Thousands of acres and thousands of farm animals. This operation is big.

“Fair Oaks opened my eyes to how responsible big organizations can be,” Escalante says.

He’s talking about the self-sufficiency of the farm and its mantra to reduce, reuse, recycle, about its cause of putting education in the forefront, and about continually raising its own bar on quality. But he’s also talking about his role of taking care of individual diners as one of the restaurant’s chefs.

“As a culinarian, I get the most passion out of my food by knowing where it comes from and understanding the nutritional value of it – and I really just love good food,” Escalante says. “It looks good, it tastes good, it’s good for you. Those are the three things I admire about cooking.”

Escalante 1

It’s a family thing with him. Always has been. “I’ve always been around food,” he says, citing his Mexican, Italian and Bohemian heritage. “My mom has an old video of me cleaning up in the kitchen. I wasn’t even talking, maybe just over a year, but I was wiping down anything I could reach, putting the towel back on the rack, dropping it, putting it back up.”

Escalante grew up in Arizona and attended Le Cordon Bleu there, then interned at the Four Seasons in Dallas, Texas. But he says his No. 1 mentor was David Tallent in Bloomington. “I still call him Chef because I respect him wildly,” Escalante says. “He projected me out of the student mindset to the professional mindset. I will always owe that to him.”

At the core was good food. “When I worked at his restaurant, we’d have farmers coming up to the back door, dirty, but with a basket of the most beautiful vegetables I’d ever seen. We’d be cleaning off the bugs and shaking the dirt off. That’s what got that hook into me. And I said, this is what I want to do with food.”

Escalante also worked at restaurants in northern Indiana as well as for Sodexo, feeding an entire healthcare system. And he taught hospitality at Ivy Tech in South Bend.

He’s been at Fair Oaks since the restaurant’s opening in 2014, where his passion is to combine the preparation of food with educating others about all its aspects. He’s big on tradition. “In every culture you have two core components – family and food. They’re both necessary for a culture to survive. I want to help the next generations continue this.”

His advice? “Get educated about food. Figure out what your area has to offer – understand what it takes to produce the food and enjoy the best quality you can. We want to eat good food. Even more so, we need to eat good food.”

The Farmhouse Restaurant
Fair Oak Farms
856 N 600 E (Exit 220 off I-65) FAIR OAKS, IND.
(219) 394-3663 • fofarms.com