Hired in September to take over the kitchen at Dunaway’s Palazzo Ossigeno, returning Hoosier chef Christopher Bator has already made some impressive menu tweaks. The former Florida private chef (who counted Tiger Woods and Tim Durham among his clients) plans to supplement Dunaway's traditional steaks and chops with local produce and in-house charcuterie. We have fallen hard for his scallops in lemon beurre blanc and a refashioned banana cream pie. What else can we expect from this new toque in town?
Amanda Hart: Where did you work before you came to Dunaway's?
Christopher Bator: I started out at Bella Vita in 2000 and then worked for Tim Durham, running Obsidian Conference and Catering for the next five or six years. I left Obsidian to take care of my grandfather and also finish culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando. My grandfather passed, and I moved back two and half years ago from Florida. I did just a little over two years at Cassler's Kitchen & Bar at 116th and Olio. But while I was in school I did an internship at Isleworth Country Club. They had the only certified master chef in the state of Florida. That's also where Tiger Woods lives, and a lot of the Orlando Magic. I got to cater a couple of parties for Tiger Woods and a couple of parties that he was at in the country club.
AH: What was Tim Durham's favorite food?
CB: He was actually one of those weird creatures of habit who would go two or three weeks eating the same thing for lunch. He liked chicken with tomato sauce over pasta. He liked a certain chef salad with turkey and egg, a well-done steak. He he was very easy to cook for.
AH: How did you end up with that job?
CB: I was working at Bella Vita at the time. I was also running Bella Vita's catering. We had a two-year contract to the Indianapolis yacht club where we did weddings, receptions, parties, and things like that. That was around the time that he had come onto the scene in Indianapolis. He literally lived a stone's throw from Bella Vita on Geist, and so he was in Bella Vita all the time. He wanted to run a catering/delivery service to the bank tower. Also while I was working there, he opened up Vizion/Vapour at 82nd and Allisonville, and I was one of the closing supervisors there. I've worked in several different aspects for Tim. I was out on his yacht cooking for him in the Bahamas.
AH: What are some of the influences on your cooking style?
CB: My grandmother, for one. She's four-foot Italian. Pretty much right off the boat. I noticed that every time she would spend all day cooking for the holidays or whatnot, everybody was circled around the kitchen. That's where they wanted to be. That's kind of what did it for me. My godmother owned a fine-dining restaurant called Cassio's on Pendleton Pike. It was an old gangster speakeasy. They had tunnels underneath the property. They had a bulletproof cashier's room with three-foot steel walls. I started there when I was 12.
AH: Why did you come to Dunaway's.
CB: The biggest thing I can say is potential. This place has potential coming out of everywhere. It's a really unique building. We can focus on a lot of different aspects in the industry: catering, small parties. I really enjoy a good challenge. I can't be complacent or bored, and this definitely fits the challenge.
AH: How will it be different now that you're in charge?
CB: We're going to do our very best to be the place that tries stuff first, that does different things. Especially with the [nearby] condos and apartments and the way the area is building up, we don't want to just be a destination location. I really just want to get back to comfortable, simple, balanced food.
AH: You said that you were changing the whole menu. Is anything staying on there?
CB: We have a 9-ounce filet, an 18-ounce bone-in ribeye, and an18-ounce Kansas City strip. Those will stay. Our macaroni and cheese will stay. And then a couple of the desserts. But for the most part, everything is going to be changed. Even our bone-in ribeye will have some really nice cremini mushrooms and shallots, and a bourbon glaze. And maybe a nice cabernet reduction for the filet.
AH: What are you most excited about sharing with diners?
CB: I know the economy's bad, but I remember when people would go out two or three times a week to just hang out and make an evening of it with friends. I just want to share this building. It's really cool and very intimate, and I just want to bring back a place where you can go and have fun without any of the worries of your day.