By Rob Gaston, April 29th, 2014
A commitment to cooking seasonally and locally can be a challenge, and with 52 dinner menus a year, no one understands that better than Regina Mehallick. While her dinner menu changes weekly, Mehallick makes it a little easier on the restaurant and staff by updating the lunch menu “only” quarterly, with the changing of the seasons. Operating this way involves planning ahead and a detailed order system. Chefs are lucky to find a farm who will deliver local produce more than once a week. When Mehallick places orders for beef and pork, she usually has to think 7 to 10 days ahead of when she will need it. Fortuantely for her, Piazza Produce offers a “Buy Fresher” program of regional produce, making it much easier to find and order local items.
After eating a hearty lunch of Indiana canadian bacon and poached eggs, I watched Mehallick get excited about some of the upcoming treasures of the spring season: peas, morels, asparagus, and later on, rhubarb. Hearty greens are some of the first items that become available this time of year, but with techniques such as hydroponics and hoophouses, lettuces and greens are now produced and available all year in Indiana. Mehallick showed me a picture on her phone of some green leaf lettuce she recently obtained from Good Life Farms, and also sources from Lush Leaf Farm, both hydroponic operations. Throughout most of the winter, shoppers at the Indy Winter Farmers Market can also find kale, arugula, and a spicy lettuce mix grown in a hoophouse at Full Hand farms.
Regina and I shared our love of lettuces, and among her favorites are the beautiful lolla rossa, feathery mizuna, and arugula. When making a salad, chefs like Mehallick don’t think of only your traditional lettuces. Tender radish tops, red russian kale, even a chiffonade of beet greens can add a flavorful punchto your normal leafy salad. Of course, greens are not limited to the salad bowl, and a common way at R Bistro to serve greens like arugula is to use them as a cool counterpoint to a hot center of the plate item.
In 2008, Regina received a Cultural Visonary award from NUVO newsweekly, and also traveled to Turin, Italy to participate in Slow Food Internaional’s bi-annual Terra Madre event. She currently serves on the board of the Indiana Restaurant Association. Dinner is served at R Bistro Wednesday through Saturday and lunch is available Tuesday through Friday, but in between, don’t be surprised if you bump into Regina at the farmer’s market to stock up on some extra local ingredients.