Q&A with Caleb France of Cerulean
Construction on the downtown mixed-use complex CityWay is still in its hard-hat–and–yellow-tape phase. But look closely through the jackhammer dust, and you will notice that some of the key components of the eight-block project are starting to take form. Most notably, we can see the outline of the restaurant Cerulean, slated to open as early as November at the corner of South and Delaware streets. The 6,000-square-foot space bears little resemblance to its Winona Lake flagship, a wood-shingled cottage with a surprisingly hip decor—where diners settle into baby-blue Eames chairs to eat locally sourced meals served in lacquered bento boxes. Co-owner Caleb France, who opened the northern-Indiana restaurant six years ago with wife Courtney, gave us a preview of the Indianapolis outpost, which the 30-year-old self-taught chef sees as an extension (but not a duplicate) of the original.
Julia Spalding: How long has the CityWay location been on your radar?
Caleb France: About a year and a half ago, we started looking for our next challenge. We researched a lot of different cities and traveled to a lot of different places. Once we had narrowed it down to Indianapolis, we went to tour the city with a friend of ours and happened to get in touch with everyone there at (CityWay developer) Buckingham Companies. The correlation between what we really believe in here and what they were doing there just seemed to go hand in hand.
JS: What struck you about the design?
CF: We get a lot of inspiration from Danish design and Mid-century modern, and we love the simplicity of the modern style. We have started the interior build-out. We’ll have almost complete windows on the south side and a great outdoor space. Lots of trees and pavers.
JS: How will you staff the new location?
CF: We want to be able to move the culture that we have created and make sure it transfers. I’ll bring in an executive chef, Chase Hinton, and a front-of-the-house person who has been with us for a while.
JS: How will the Indianapolis location be different from what you are doing in Winona Lake?
CF: We are going to be changing the menu quite a bit. In Winona Lake, with a smaller town, we can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. We have an Asian-inspired lunch and a sushi bar at dinner, but we are going to drop that concept down in Indianapolis. There are a lot of places doing great sushi there, so we are going to dive a little more into our stance on local sourcing. We are going to do the bento-box delivery system in Indianapolis, but we’ll use it in a way that highlights heritage foods from Indiana.
JS: What do you mean by heritage foods from Indiana?
CF: We started to get into foraging a little bit, taking advantage of things that are all around us. We’ve been out collecting May apples, for example. It’s a really nice, sweet fruit that we use to make jam and jellies here. Another Indiana gem is the pawpaw.
JS: The Indiana banana?
CF: Yes, exactly. It has almost a banana flavor. So we are able to bring these elements more into a commercial setting and highlight things that maybe people have forgotten about and present them in exciting ways.
JS: This is a very Indiana thing to do: picking persimmons out of your driveway and finding wild blackberry bushes to make pies. Are you elevating that to fine dining?
CF: Yes, and they are actually hard to find. So it’s like a delicacy, right? I am from Indiana, and we are extremely proud of the Midwest. What we want to do is destroy that coastal arrogance.