By Elizabeth Granger
Al Gary Sanders, Nicole Bissonnette, Ian Sanders
BEVERLY SHORES, Ind. – The Sanders family of northwest Indiana vacationed in Belize last winter. They were on a small boat in a remote Monkey River area when they realized strangers were waving at them from shore. When they docked, a little girl rushed over and blurted to Sanders’ son, “Aren’t you Ian from ‘MasterChef Junior’?”
It’s a greeting the Sanders family has become familiar with, albeit in places far more ordinary and local than the jungles of Belize. But that’s what happens when you’ve been on Fox TV’s “MasterChef Junior.”
This threesome – Dad, Mom, Ian – are all chefs. Dad Gary Sanders and mom Nicole Bissonnette are, of course, far more accomplished and definitely professional, but a kitchen is a large part of this family’s daily surroundings.
For Sanders, there was extraordinary training under a classically trained French chef at The Cottage in Calumet City, Indiana, and then at Miller Bakery Café in the Miller Beach neighborhood in Gary. Three years later Sanders bought the café. For Bissonnette, there was studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and then ownership of Bistro 157 in Valparaiso. The husband/wife duo opened Bartlett’s in Beverly Shores in 2008. It was, Sanders says, “a hit right out of the box.”
That may be, at least in part, because both chefs had created names for themselves in northwest Indiana’s Region, and those diners followed them to Bartlett’s. The menu is New American, with “international flavors infusing thoughtful, locally sourced dishes.” Although the offerings change from time to time, there are signature dishes “that can never come off the menu.”
Sanders says there’s been a change in what dining out means since he started working in restaurants. Then it was more formal and for special occasions, often for just a couple. Now it’s more casual and family-oriented with diners eating out several times a month. The outdoor patio is a popular summer spot, and there’s a play area with a lookout into the woods so kids can play while parents “can kick back and relax.”
The couple is branching out with a food truck for festivals – think Taste of Michigan City in August, for example – and for catered events. It will also travel to the New Buffalo, Mich., farmer’s market on Thursday evenings as well as to the entry to Beverly Shores and Lake Michigan a few times a week.
The chefs’ philosophy? “Food is supposed to be fun,” Bissonnette says.
There’s a lot of togetherness with this family – Bissonnette adds that “cooking is about family.” Ian learned to walk in the restaurant. He waited tables at 3. He knew how to scramble eggs by the time he was 4.
And he loved watching “MasterChef Junior.” Last year, when he was only 8, he talked his parents into letting him apply for a spot on the show. Auditions in Chicago were the next day. He ended up being the season’s youngest boy competitor and made it through seven out of 12 shows.
Ian’s culinary dream? A food truck. He’s already written a cookbook for it titled “Ian’s Insane Roadside Recipes.”