Carlos Salazar was studying to become an accountant when a conversation with a friend changed the trajectory of his life.
“I mentioned to my friend, who’s now my wife, that while I loved math and numbers, I didn’t know if I could see myself working in a cubicle,” Salazar says. “She suggested I go to culinary school.”
He followed her advice and never looked back, though he admits working as a chef can be a difficult vocation.
“Cooking isn’t for everybody,” he says. “Honestly, we [chefs] are kind of crazy. I love the stress and the 90-hour weeks. I love getting 60 orders all at once and thinking, ‘How do I do this?’ I cook better under pressure.”
After graduating first in his class from The Chef’s Academy in 2008, Salazar landed a job as sous-chef at Oakleys Bistro, making salads and soups. Next he opened a small, organic brunch spot before switching gears to help Neal Brown open Pizzology in Carmel. After a while, he got the itch to get back into fine dining. He went to work for The Oceanaire, then Oakleys Bistro invited him back to become a sous-chef.
“I was like, ‘Steve Oakley is the best chef in Indy,’” he says. “I jumped at the chance. After two years there, he was given the opportunity to run Rook, an Asian-inspired restaurant that was often named among the best in Indianapolis.
“Rook was in Fountain Square, the hippest, most fun street in Indiana,” says Salazar, who ran the popular eatery for eight years. Salazar was getting noticed while he was there, so he took a leap and opened Lil’ Dumplings in Fishers. Soon after, however, COVID-19 hit.
“I was the only one open during COVID,” Salazar says. “I was sitting in a building in the dark, hoping someone would walk in to order food. I found myself wondering if this was the end of culinary restaurants – or even the end of humanity!”
Sadly, Rook became a casualty of the pandemic and permanently closed in 2020. Salazar chose to move Lil’ Dumplings to The Garage Food Hall in the Bottleworks District, making it into a noodle bar.
Salazar grew up in Westfield, and when he heard the West Fork owners were looking to open a restaurant in his hometown, he reached out to Owners David McIntyre and Blake Jones to pitch a menu concept that would pair nicely with bourbon. They loved the concept and the menu items Salazar brought for a taste test.
The Mash House was born.“Mash” in the world of whiskey refers to the mixture of grain, water and yeast that is initially fermented to produce alcohol, prior to distillation. Plus, they wanted the restaurant to be a “mash” of foods Hoosiers recognize and love. At first Salazar wanted to feature only Indiana cuisine, but he realized that was limiting. Instead he came up with a handful of dishes that are Midwestern in nature, and highlight Hoosier agriculture and local farmers. For instance, he uses zucchinis and tomatoes from Full Hand Farm in Noblesville. Other examples include corn, quail and rabbit.
“We even have quality shrimp that’s being farm-raised in Indiana,” Salazar says.
Josh Ratliff, Director of Brand Experience for West Fork, says the conceptualization for The Mash House was born out of childhood memories and Indiana charm.
“The owners told us to focus on what Indiana does that stands up next to other world-class food, drink and service,” Ratliff says. “Throughout the menu development, we were reaching down into our pockets for our own childhood favorites and talking with local food makers and farmers.”
A popular menu item is the Country Fried Pork Tenderloin, served with shaved fennel, onion soubise, parmesan, lemon preserves, pickled mustard seeds, and chervil. “It melts in your mouth,” Salazar says. “Nobody’s serving up an Indiana pork tenderloin here in Indy. That’s why I wanted to make it into something where the flavor is familiar but doesn’t look or taste the same.”
Another yummy menu item is Grilled Prawn Cocktail. Instead of using traditional red cocktail sauce, Salazar uses a Marie Rose sauce. Instead of being cold, he grills the shrimp – head on, but peels off – with sauce on the bottom, and dresses it with herbs, scallions and frisée.
“It reads shrimp cocktail but comes out as an elevated, beautiful dish,” Salazar says.
Then there’s food that hearkens back to childhood, like the Skillet Fried Bologna Sandwich. With the way Salazar makes it, however, it likely won’t remind you of anything you ate as a kid. Made with a thick cut of Fischer Farms bologna that’s pan seared, it comes with pimento cheese, white barbecue sauce, crinkle-cut pickles and a handful of kettle chips.
The Country Fried Rib Tips are served with shallots, pickled Fresnos, parsley, cilantro, and whiskey barbecue aioli. “I take the bones out, dredge them, fry them and then dip them in the whiskey barbecue sauce like pork nuggets,” Salazar says.
The restaurant is modern and spacious with huge, 30’ ceilings. Between the dining room, balcony, private dining area, cocktail lounge and outdoor patio, seating capacity exceeds 300.
“If you’ve ever been to a distillery down south, it has that woody feeling because of all the barrels,” Salazar says. “It’s comforting, quiet and very chill.”
Salazar thinks customers will be happy with the style and flavors they encounter.
“The Mash House is centered on food that feeds families, but what makes it stand out among other restaurants is the way in which we bring that food to you,” Ratliff says. “Often chef-driven, independent restaurants get a wrap as fussy and expensive, but Chef Carlos Salazar and our hospitality team have worked hard to design and deliver a menu that nourishes and delights while offering value.”
The Mash House is located at 10 East 191st Street in Westfield and is set to open August 20th. For more info, visit westforkwhiskey.com.
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