When Martha Hoover founded Cafe Patachou in 1989, she was unaware of the future she was building for her then–3-year-old daughter, Rachael. But from early on, Martha profoundly influenced the way the girl thought about food. “I have vivid memories of the family driving around Indy for salad ingredients,” says Rachael, “and of coming home with fresh raspberries and corn.”
Now 25, Rachael is establishing a culinary identity of her own in Italy, where she’s finishing a master’s degree in food culture from the University of Gastronomic Sciences. When she graduates in May, she plans to return to Indy and dive into the family business. Having studied Buddhist philosophy at Emory University, Rachael has a more reflective approach to food than do many restaurateurs. “It’s nauseating to think about the negative impact our food system has, not only on people’s health, but also on the food system globally,” she says. “We’re living in the Midwest, which has some of the most fertile land in the world. And almost all of it is devoted to genetically modified soybeans. We have to be radically better.”
Rachael practices what she preaches. When she discovered the impact fish-farming was having on our oceans, she stopped eating certain kinds of seafood. And to the chagrin of some, she convinced her mother to take those fish off of the menu at Cafe Patachou.
Expect Rachael’s passions and politics to continue to influence the food at Patachou when she returns. Rachael admits that her mom’s restaurant group is now too large to source everything from this area. Even so, she is determined to do what she can. She admires how chefs at the American University of Rome handle sourcing for their restaurant: They have on-site gardens to substitute for the items they can’t get nearby. Rachael says a model like that is attainable for Patachou. Who knows? Maybe a meal there in the next few years will give us a vision of what Europeans have been doing for centuries: eating locally off the land.
Photograph by Eric Lubrick
This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue.