By Rob Gaston, May 12, 2014
Last year he brought Mini Wagyu Sliders with blue cheese mousse and tomato jam, and the year before it was Tongue in Cheek Wagyu tacos, but whatever Joseph Decuis chef Aaron Butts brings to a “Taste of Indiana”, you know it’s going to be creative and delicious. A true farm to fork entity, Joseph Decuis is not just a restaurant but also a farm that raises two varieties of Wagyu beef, and grows 80-90% of the produce used in the restaurant during the season. The philosophy of the restaurant came from values important to founder Pete Eshelman, who also serves as a member of the Dig IN advisory board and has helped to establish the organization.
When it’s time to plan the garden, co-owner Alice Eshelman sits down with the chef to pick seeds for the garden, and when harvest time comes Aaron and his kitchen crew head out to the farm and help pluck the produce that ends up on the dinner plate. Aaron’s latest interest is extending the farm to fork philosophy beyond the kitchen and into the bar. To that end, he is creating his own infusions, shrubs, and bitters in house from fresh local ingredients, even working with an organic grower for stawberries that will be pickled while still green. As a certified sommelier, he is as at home in the bar as he is behind the grill.
This month Butts and other chefs around the state are focused on asparagus, which is only available out of Indiana soil for about the month of May. While you can find asparagus on the grocery store shelf year round, the sweetness and taste are nothing like the stalks that Larry Yoder of Sugarbush Farm delivers to the door of Joseph Decuis. According to the chef, “Larry’s plants are more established and have built up sugars in reserve,” meaning the asparagus is sweet enough to even bite into raw.
Chef Aaron eschews the practice of blanching asparagus, questioning the nutrition that must be lost in the blanching water which turns bright green, opting instead for grilling, roasting or simply sauteeing. In fact, his featured dish (pictured here) starts with asparagus roasted in the oven with olive oil, lemon, sea salt, and black pepper. For the home chef, as long as you’ve started with a high quality locally grown variety, you’ve already got a delicious side right there. However, the Joseph Decuis way is to top the asparagus with a farm fresh egg, and serve it over a spoon of ramp-mint pesto. Displaying the true creative touch of a chef, Butts then takes a hunk of prosciutto that was too small or oddly shaped for slicing, freezes it, and then grates it over the dish with a microplane for a nice umami kick.
Asparagus will go out on nearly every plate during these few short weeks before the next seasonal ingredients arrive. However, it is also important to Butts that crops do not go to waste, and he’s learned that ingredients picked at the peak of maturity do not have a long shelf life. To that end, he is working on expanding his program of preservation and canning, including pickling, barbecue and hot sauces. You can find Aaron Butts at A Taste of Indiana on August 17th this year, but his seasonal cuisine may be sampled year round at Joseph Decuis in Roanoke, IN.