Rebel Yell: April Foodie Kristen York

Thunderbird’s food menu gets a gutsy, Southern-fried makeover courtesy of chef Kristen York.

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Kristen York has

the heart of an artist and the moxie of a Long Island girl, a combination that served her well when she took over the kitchen at Thunderbird last year. The New York transplant (York’s family moved to Carmel when she was in junior high) studied printmaking at the Herron School of Art & Design, but climbed the culinary ladder on what she calls “the hard-knock path.” That’s kitchen shorthand for stints at every position in an untold number of restaurants, honing the skills some chefs acquire at expensive culinary schools. “Industry friends said I should just spend about a year and a half at each place, learn what I can, and move on,” says York. She started working in restaurants when she was 16 and continued nonstop, working in pizzerias, bistros, private baking, and serving as the head chef at a big catering company, a gig that allowed her to cook for her fair share of celebrities visiting Indianapolis, including Tony Bennett and Herbie Hancock.
York’s task at Thunderbird was to elevate the food menu at a spot known mostly for its masculine vibe and bar program. The result is still food with Southern flair, but more diversity of flavor. Think sweet-potato gnocchi with kale, cranberry, and sorghum brown butter. Or fried bologna with Smoking Goose mortadella and black-garlic aioli. “I worked with the bartenders,” says York, “to create food that matched the feeling of the cocktails.”

Kristen York’s Favorite Things

(1)Lodge carbon-steel skillets

. “Inexpensive and pre-seasoned. Ditch the infomercial Teflon.”
(2) Midland Arts & Antiques Market. “I’m a part-time hoarder, full-time taxidermy enthusiast.”

(3) Old Grand-Dad Bonded bourbon. “If you can’t get down with Pappy, get down with OGD.”

(4) Rosemary. “The herb and my Grammy.”

Bonus: York’s recipe for this homemade Macaroni Genovese.