Chef Craig Baker

Chef Craig Baker talks about representing the Hoosier state at the Final Table

Red Gold Chef Partners and Indianapolis-based duo Chef Craig Baker and sous-chef Ben Hardy are advancing to the Final Table of the World Food Championships this April! The local chefs and restaurateurs earned the number 1 spot in the Best Chef Category this past November at the World Food Championship semi-finals in Orange Beach, Alabama.

The duo combined each individuals’ culinary expertise to sweep the Chef Category. Craig, owner and chef of Indianapolis restaurant, the Local, teamed up with pastry chef, Ben of Gallery Pastry Shop, to create a Cajun-Inspired Paella using local Indiana ingredients, including Red Gold Tomatoes, that helped advanced them to the finals! Together again, they will compete at the Final Table on April 22 for the grand prize of $100,000 and the title of World Food Champion!

When did you develop your passion for cooking?
My mother taugh me to cook when she went back to work when I was in seventh grade.  I always found pleasure in cooking for others.  I guess it's in my nature.

You own a few restaurants in Indianapolis, how do you keep up with the local and national culinary trends?
I travel as much as I can.  Finding inspiration in regional American cuisine is one of my passions.  Generally speaking, if someone loves it in Maryland for example, you probably will have success with it anywhere.

Where do you find inspiration in your dishes?
I look to historical recipes and techniques.  I collect old cookbooks and love to find and try super weird recipes.

What's your favorite ingredient to cook with?
Honey.

What is your favorite spice?
Allspice, I find it used a lot in early American recipes and in the right amount brings a lot to a dish.

What is your go-to meal to cook at home?
soup of any kind.  It is a good way to be creative and clean out your refrigerator.

Who is your recipe tester?
My kids, they are a good sound board.  They are like that Life commercial.

What culinary achievement are you most proud of?
Being recognized for what we do nationally for our dedication to local foods and sustainable products.

What is your favorite Red Gold product you use in your restaurant operations and why?
Canned diced tomatoes, because I can make killer soup in like 20 minutes.  Perfect on a cold day.

How do Red Gold products compare to other tomato products you have tried in your operations?
We use several Red Gold products at the restaurants.  If feels good to know that we are supporting a local company and it's community, plus the products are outstanding.  Restaurants are businesses and to have a local high-quality product at a reasonable price is perfect for our business model.

What is your favorite Red Gold product?
At home I use the Whole Peeled Tomatoes all the time.  They are perfect in soups and sauces.  The texture and flavor are the best!

What do you like most about Red Gold products?
Red Gold has a great product and company culture.  It is great to see an Indiana company investing in Indiana and featuring some of the things we do best as Hoosiers.

What does it mean to represent the State of Indiana at the WFC?
I am pretty excited to be competing in the finals.  The last five years competing at the WFC had a team goal to spread the word about what is happening in Indiana.  I just want to try and draw some national attention to our food scene, culture and artisan producers.

How are you bringing Indiana flavor to your dishes?
As I mentioned before, I find it interesting to see where our food cultures have come from.  History will take you to some surprising conclusions for inspiration.  And, how can you not be inspired by the bounty of products seasonally here?  Eat with the seasons, know your roots and when in doubt, there is always ranch dressing...LOL

How/When did you get involved in Food Sport/Cooking Competitions?
I stumbled into a competition that I thought was a fundraiser five years ago.  My 9 year old son was my sous chef!  We ended up winning a ticket to the WFC and I have been hooked ever since.

How many years have you competed in the WFC?
Five.

You are a seasoned WFC competitor, what was it like cooking in the Chef Category versus a structured category such as sandwich or seafood?
Chef is crazy to get your mind around, because there are really no limitations.  There is a very different way of looking at the competition when you're not limited or bound by a category.

How did you choose your Sous Chef for WFC?
Ben is one of the most talented people I know.  We have a lot of fun together and has a complementary skill set to mine.  Together I knew we would make a great team and have a blast, win or lose.

Tune in on Sunday, April 22 at 1pm to watch the ten category champions go head-to-head for the chance to win $100,000 and the title of World Food Champion! The Competition will be streaming live on Kitchen Ambush.
Chefs Craig Baker and Ben Hardy WFC2018