The Mash House – Local Restaurants – Chef Salazar
West Fork Whiskey Co. opens The Mash House with chef Carlos Salazar
Screenwriter / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
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 is 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 cooking school.”
He took her advice and never looked back, although he admits working as a chef can be a tough calling.
“Cooking isn’t for everyone,” he says. “Honestly, we [chefs] are a bit crazy. I like stress and 90 hour weeks. I love getting 60 orders all at once and thinking, “How can I do this?” I cook better under pressure.
After graduating first in her class from Chef’s Academy in 2008, Salazar landed a job as a sous chef at Oakleys Bistro, preparing salads and soups. Then he opened a small organic brunch before switching gears to help Neal Brown open Pizzology in Carmel. After a while, he wanted to get back to gastronomy. 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 boss in Indy,'” he said. “I jumped at the chance. After two years there, he had the opportunity to run Rook, an Asian-inspired restaurant often named one of the best in Indianapolis.
“Rook was on Fountain Square, Indiana’s hippest and funniest street,” says Salazar, who ran the popular restaurant for eight years. Salazar was getting noticed while he was there, so he took the plunge and opened up Lil’ Dumplings to 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 come in to order food. I wondered if this was the end of culinary restaurants – or even the end of humanity!
Unfortunately, Rook fell victim to the pandemic and closed permanently in 2020. Salazar opted to move Lil’ Dumplings to Garage Food Hall in the Bottleworks District, making it a noodle bar.
Salazar grew up in Westfield, and when he heard that West Fork owners were looking to open a restaurant in his hometown, he approached owners David McIntyre and Blake Jones to come up with a menu concept that would pair well with bourbon. . They loved the concept and the menu items that 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, before distillation. Additionally, they wanted the restaurant to be a “mash” of foods that the Hoosiers recognize and love. At first, Salazar only wanted to showcase Indiana cuisine, but he realized that was limited. Instead, he offered a handful of dishes that are Midwestern in nature and showcase Hoosier agriculture and local farmers. For example, he uses zucchini and tomatoes from Full Hand Farm in Noblesville. Other examples include corn, quail and rabbit.
“We even have quality shrimp that’s raised in Indiana,” Salazar says.
Josh Ratliff, Director of Brand Experience for West Fork, says the conceptualization of The Mash House was born out of childhood memories and Indiana charm.
“The owners told us to focus on what Indiana does that stand out alongside other world-class food, beverages and service,” Ratliff said. “Throughout developing the menu, we searched our pockets for our own childhood favorites and spoke with local food makers and farmers.”
A popular menu item is the fried country pork tenderloin, served with grated fennel, onion sobise, parmesan cheese, lemon jams, pickled mustard seeds and chervil. “It melts in your mouth,” Salazar says. “No one serves Indiana pork tenderloin here in Indy. That’s why I wanted to make it something that tastes familiar but doesn’t look or taste the same.
Another delicious menu item is the grilled shrimp cocktail. Instead of using a traditional red cocktail sauce, Salazar uses a Marie Rose sauce. Instead of being cold, he grills the prawns – head on, but peeled off – with sauce on the bottom, and dresses them in herbs, scallions and curly leaf.
“It reads a shrimp cocktail but comes across as a beautiful, elevated dish,” says Salazar.
Then there are dishes reminiscent of childhood, like the pan-fried bologna sandwich. The way Salazar does it, though, it probably won’t remind you of anything you ate as a kid. Made with a thick cut of seared Fischer Farms bologna, it comes with chili cheese, white barbecue sauce, crinkle pickles and a handful of kettle crisps.
Country Fried Rib Tips are served with shallots, pickled Fresnos, parsley, cilantro and whiskey barbecue aioli. “I take out the bones, dredge them up, fry them, then dip them in the whiskey barbecue sauce like pork nuggets,” says Salazar.
The restaurant is modern and spacious with huge 30 foot ceilings. Between the dining room, the balcony, the private dining room, the lounge bar and the outdoor patio, the reception capacity exceeds 300.
“If you’ve ever been to a southern distillery, it has this woody feel because of all the barrels,” Salazar says. “It’s comforting, calm and very cold.”
Salazar think customers will be happy with the style and flavors they come across.
“The Mash House is all about the food that feeds families, but what sets it apart from other restaurants is how we bring that food to you,” Ratliff said. “Often, independent, chef-led restaurants are difficult 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 for money.”
The Mash house is located at 10 East 191st Street in Westfield and is scheduled to open on August 20. For more information, visit westforkwhiskey.com.