BY ELIZABETH GRANGER
BLOOMINGTON – His “inner Hoosier” spoke. And Daniel Orr listened. It took a while, with culinary schooling and work in New England, New York City, France, Belgium, the Caribbean, and “guest chef” cruises between continents, but he returned home. And the Columbus, Indiana, native has paired his Hoosier roots with worldwide experiences and education to found FARMbloomington, where his greatgrandmother’s biscuit recipe gets as much billing as do the garlic fries or Lugar burgers or fancied up St. Louis ribs Alsace. More often than not, there’s a melding of Midwestern and worldwide cuisines as in the lobster and seafood pot pie with those Hoosier biscuits on top. Proof, Orr says, that “you can come home again.”
This multi-faceted and widely-traveled chef was introduced to quality made-from-scratch food from the beginning. His parents, a psychologist and home economics teacher, raised their family on Harrison Lakes in Columbus surrounded by gardens, fruit trees and bushes, where “real” food was the order of the day.
“We got to choose our favorite cereal once a year for our birthdays,” he says. “Other than that it was granola.”
“I had to work in the garden before going out to play. I didn’t like it all that much at the time, but it gave me a sense of groundedness and a sense of knowing where my food came from.”
He was exposed to quality, high-scale food through two local families. One couple cooked for Irwin Miller of Cummins Engine; another couple ran a high-end restaurant. Orr did some work for both. “At that time there weren’t a lot of celebrity chefs on TV, and a kid from southern Indiana didn’t have a lot of role models in the coking industry,” he says. By the time he graduated from high school, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the culinary industry. It took him to Rhode Island and the prestigious Johnson & Wales University, and then to Europe, New York City, and the Caribbean.
“I ran away from Indiana for 25 years, but my ‘inner Hoosier’ was calling out and I had to come back to Indiana,” he says.
Being in the Caribbean with wide open spaces, at least compared to New York City, made him nostalgic for the Midwest. The crumbling old homes in the islands were like Indiana’s crumbling old barns. He’s been documenting them through photos since his return. That nostalgia has influenced his restaurant’s décor and menu choices, too. He’s big on fresh, local ingredients as much as possible, plus global flavors he’s learned from being in different places or meeting people from different places.
“I’ve developed different recipes, reminiscing about fried chicken and meat loaf and braised brisket,” he says. Now they’re daily specials. “It costs more to buy local,” he says. “But it makes you more creative because you don’t know what you’re going to get. You find yourself thinking, what would the French do with this? Or the Italians, or the Mexicans, or the Indians? Farm to table is really about having a more varied menu that changes more often and utilizes local products more than the old classic menu.” He says he’s more mad scientist than artist in the kitchen. “I want our food to look like food and make your mouth water rather than just look artistic.”
Orr – affectionately called Chef D by both staff and diners – confesses that in his younger days, he was a hardline chef who’d raise his voice when things weren’t going right. Now he’s more interested in sharing his knowledge. In addition to training his staff, he hosts an NPR radio podcast titled Earth Eats, and he’s completing his fourth cookbook, with a doctor, titled Sautéing Off the Pounds. It’s targeted toward those in middle age and older. “Fitness is not just for the fit,” he says. “Fitness is for everyone.”
FARMbloomington 108 E. Kirkwood Ave.• Bloomington, Ind. (812) 323-0002 • farm-bloomington.com