You might have heard of R.J. Wall. He’s buddies with some of the most famous toques in the Midwest and is the mastermind behind the Chefs’ Night Off series of “pirate dinners” around Indy. But how does a bushy-bearded foodie with “American” tattooed on his knuckles become the city’s biggest champion of eating local? As with so many things, it’s all about who you know.
A onetime IUPUI anthropology major who had held front-of-the-house jobs at a number of northside restaurants, Wall was working at a bar in Chicago and socializing with a network of Hoosier expats in Michelin-starred and James Beard–awarded kitchens around the Windy City. Wall parlayed that talent base into the original incarnation of Chefs’ Night Off in Chicago. When he returned to Indianapolis while his father battled an illness, he brought the concept back with him, setting up Indy’s version of CNO in 2014.
And he’s not done. Wall’s love for local cuisine (and his audacity) led him to cold-call the Beard House in New York City, announcing that he would be bringing a quintet of Indiana chefs for a dinner, slated for August 6. Even if you don’t have a seat at that table, there’s reason to be as excited as Wall is about the meal. “Everyone’s sourcing produce from Indiana now,” he says, “and we have great chefs to make our state proud.”