Thursday, December 1, 2022

Connecting folks and food: Pacers Minority Guest Chef program sparks opportunity

Pacers fans may have noticed their game day snacking options are expanding as a program for minority guest chefs called The Kitchen returned with a new lineup of local chefs for the 2022-23 season.

Originally launched last year by the Gainbridge Fieldhouse Food Co., The Kitchen brings in local Black and other minority chefs from around Indianapolis to cook and serve their specialty dishes to fans on select game days.

Jerry Purvis, vice president of hospitality strategy for Fieldhouse Food Co., said each of the guest chefs partner with Gainbridge for a select amount of games, undergoing a short mentorship with Gainbridge Fieldhouse Food Co. as they prepare to present their signature dishes on a larger scale at The Kitchen stand on the main concourse in Section 17.

For the 2022-23 season, the program is hosting three Black chefs: Tasha Claylor of TStreet Eatz, Kenneth Hardiman Jr. of Forked Up Catering and Phillip Guy of Guy’s Cooking Creation.

Forked Up Catering, a veteran-owned and family-operated catering business, got its start in 2018, Hardiman said. Although he’s usually serving up a unique twist on homestyle Southern cuisine at festivals around Indiana, Hardiman said the guest chef program has been an opportunity to make people smile with his food — a fact made evident by the swarms of people flocking to his stand at a game earlier this month before the game had even started.

“The first game — to see people, you know, come back and say ‘it was amazing,’ — you know, one guy said he wanted to slap his mom,” Hardiman said with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘You might not want to do that.’ But yeah, it’s been an amazing experience.”

Hardiman and his wife took over The Kitchen during the Nov. 4, 7 and 9 games featuring a menu of a signature chicken tikka taco, roasted cauliflower and chickpeas in coconut curry and shrimp and grits — which Hardiman said included their signature secret sauce.

What’s in the secret sauce?

“I can’t tell ya,” Hardiman laughed, but added that the sauce is what takes the dish to “the next level.”

“I believe my specialty is just making sure that the food is flavorful regardless of what I make,” Hardiman said. “Some things are challenging, but at the end, it’s all about having everyone smile if they get anything, then being affordable.”

Last year, the guest chef program hosted six Black chefs and restaurant owners, including Terry Anthony of The Block Bistro & Grill, Monique and Kara Hawkins of Taste of Innova Wings + Greens and Chris Mitchell of Just Like Sunday.

Run by mother-daughter duo Monique and Kara Hawkins, Taste of Innova Wings + Greens first opened in June of 2021 at The Amp at 16 Tech as a way to bring their family together during the pandemic, but it was so successful at Gainbridge last season that they were invited back as a permanent feature at each of the games this season, Monique Hawkins, co-owner and co-founder, said.

“It’s really been a gift because we can be a testament,” Kara Hawkins said, “to what it looks like to be family, to work and continue the legacy with one another.”

During games, both Hawkins — dressed in matching black outfits and aprons donning their business name — are serving up their game day menu to Pacers fans on the Club Level fourth floor. That menu includes seasoned collard greens with smoked turkey, cauliflower, a specialty cocktail called “The Number 12” and three of their specialty wing flavors: Italian Parm, African Pepper Zest and Uncle Nearest Innova Chile — a whiskey-infused wing sauce that stemmed from a partnership with Uncle Nearest in June.

“That infused flavor came from one of the sauces I created during the chef program last year,” Monique Hawkins said. “It built up such great demand, and I knew that if I had an opportunity to come here, they’ve already had that taste and will be seeking for this.”

The guest chef program will continue throughout the 2022-23 Pacers season. For more information on the featured chefs and the games they’ll appear at visit gainbridgefieldhouse.com.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.

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