Happy Returns: John Adams Reheats the Indy Dining Scene

Former Bluebeard chef John Adams is back, cooking for the hometown crowd.

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When John Adams took a job washing dishes at Greg Hardesty’s H2O Restaurant and Sushi Bar in 2002, he never knew he would one day be a chef. “I thought I’d end up in audio engineering,” Adams says. He was already part of the hip-hop group Nearest Nova, along with a group of his fellow Broad Ripple High School friends, so he figured he would spend his young-adult years DJing at clubs and bars. But a trip to Asia with his uncle in 2001, where he got to try street food in Singapore and Thailand as well as the aromatic rice dish nasi lemak in Malaysia, had already laid the seeds for an obsession with great food. When he saw the creative dishes Hardesty was putting out every night, he got hooked.

Adams eventually enrolled in culinary school at The Art Institutes International Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he gained some valuable experience at Palomino and Barbette. He eventually returned to Indy in 2005 and embarked on a series of kitchen jobs at Brugge Brasserie, Ruth’s Keystone Cafe, and H2O, eventually sharing executive-chef duties at Bluebeard, where he helped the ambitious hipster draw garner a James Beard Foundation Award nomination for Best New Restaurant of 2013. He left Bluebeard at the end of last year for personal reasons (involving a split with his wife and co-executive chef, Abbi Merriss), moved to Louisville, and spent several months working at culinary heavy hitters Milkwood and Proof on Main.

What did his brief sojourn south of the border teach him? “Louisville’s food scene is more established,” Adams says, “but there’s almost more energy in our restaurants here. After the recession, we really built up our casual dining scene in Indy. Now we’re trying to refine things even further.” At restaurateur Craig Baker’s new seafood-inspired farm-to-table restaurant Plow & Anchor, Adams hopes to continue challenging diners with ever more imaginative fare, particularly fresh produce and raw seafood offerings. “The name keeps us out of a specific genre, so there’s no limit to what we can do.”

John Adams’s Favorite Things

(1) Beef tendon at Szechwan Garden: “It’s one of Indy’s great ethnic dishes.”

(2) A plancha grill: “It gets up to 800 degrees.”

(3) The Colts: “They play on my day off, so I can really feel like I’m
following them.”

(4) Belgian beers: “I especially like the Belgians that Bier Brewery puts out.”

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