Pioneering girls remodeling Indianapolis eating places

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Sharrona Moore, left, laughs as she directs volunteers at Lawrence Community Gardens on the east side of Indianapolis.  Groceries for the Lawrence community are grown on the six hectare property.

Great food cities are more than just delicious things to eat and drink. People who work hard to seduce our taste buds play the lead, and these inspiring women are driving the Indianapolis food and dining scene with grit, innovation and a desire to make the city a better place.

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International Women’s Day happens once a year, but these women move every day. Whether they run restaurants, write cookbooks, run small businesses or manage professional kitchens – the following women have not only achieved success. They paved new ways of thinking about the food business.

Nina Takamure

“In Japan, unfortunately, discrimination against female sushi chefs is almost a given,” said Saveur magazine in a September 2018 report on male-dominated sushi bars. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Yoshikazu Ono, the son of the famous Jiro Ono, whose Sukiyabashi Jiro has three Michelin stars in Tokyo, alleged that women’s menstrual cycles impaired their sense of taste and disqualified them as sushi chefs. He should meet Takamure at the Asaka Japanese Restaurant, 6414 E. 82nd St..

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She is hailed by sushi lovers as one of Indy’s best sushi chefs. Takamure started out as a server in Asaka. When she became interested in sushi, Takamure’s father, a sushi master, looked after his daughter. Takamure has been artfully showing sushi and sashimi behind Asaka’s sushi bar since 2009. Follow her creations on Instagram @asakaindy.

Sharrona Moore

Moore is a hairdresser by profession, but she couldn’t ignore the food access challenges for her community on the east side. It began in 2017 with the 7½ acre Lawrence Community Gardens on 46th Street near Post Road to grow vegetables donated to the surrounding neighborhood.

Moore also helped found the Indiana Black Farmers Co-op, whose mission is to help color farmers, promote community agriculture, and work with urban farmers to improve the quality and quantity of fresh, natural produce in food deserts. The cooperative hosts the Indiana Black Farmers Market and supports members selling at other farmers markets in the area, including the Near North Farmers Market, at Herron High School on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

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Martha Hoover

Cafe Patachou’s broken egg yolk sandwiches are a signature breakfast in Indianapolis, but Hoover’s dream restaurant goes way beyond the menu. She gives an example of how restaurants can give back to their employees and the community. Patachou Inc., which comprises five brands, offers employee retreats, financial stability seminars and an employee-managed emergency fund for employees experiencing personal crises.

Public Green Owner Martha Hoover won't take home a James Beard Award, but she was inducted into the 2015 Junior Achievement of Central Indiana Business Hall of Fame in February 2015.  The recognition recognized Hoover's work as a business role model for youth and the community.  She also won the Jefferson Award for Public Service.  Hoover speaks at many conferences, including the American Express Cherry Bomb Jubilee.

The Patachou Foundation, which Hoover founded in 2013, feeds Indy’s food-insecure children, children who don’t know where or when to get their next meals. Profits from Public Greens, a Patachou restaurant in Broad Ripple, will go to the foundation.

This summer, the organization is opening a new 4,000 square foot kitchen headquarters in historic Marcy Village. There, the chefs prepare the 1,000+ meals that Patachou volunteers serve at eight Indianapolis schools each week. A public café will generate income to support the project and offer young people vocational training.

Ashley Brooks and Sonja Overhiser

Brooks and Overhiser were forces in the indy food scene before they met in late 2017 when Printtext hosted Cherry Bombe magazine for a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges women face in the indy food scene.

Brooks co-founded Milktooth, one of the most famous restaurants in India.

Ashley Brooks, co-founder of Milktooth, Indy's favorite indie restaurant and founder of Indy Women in Food, shares her story during the Indianapolis Storytellers Project on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at the Grove House.

Overhiser had just published a cookbook with her husband based on their hugely popular healthy eating blog, A Couple Cooks.

Inspired by what they heard at the event, Brooks and Overhiser founded the Indy Women in Food Facebook group as a place where women in food companies could share information, ideas, and boast about their accomplishments.

Food bloggers Sonja and Alex Overhiser from Couple Cooks are turning their new cookbook into a dish, Chipotle Black Bean Tortilla Soup, which contains super-fast, healthy recipes from start to finish.  They also talk about how they transitioned from fast food to healthy eating.

Members gather regularly to network potlucks. Indy Women in Food also hosts panel discussions and educational events. The long-term goal is a major conference for women in the food industry in Indianapolis.

Becky Hostetter

Plant-based food has been a hot topic since late 2017, but Hostetter focused on vegetarian cooking before it was an Instagram sensation. The chef served meatless dishes at a downtown cellar restaurant called Essential Edibles in the 1970s. When Indy’s food truck scene began in 2010, Hostetter and her business associates skipped the monster burgers and fusion tacos that made food trucks famous in America. Instead, they created the duo’s food truck that serves slow food fast, local and organic ingredients, including many vegetarian dishes. The truck has grown to include three Duos locations: a booth at Indy City Market and restaurants at Eskenazi Health, as well as on 30th Street between Meridian and Illinois.

Becky Hostetter (left) and John Garnier (right) were preparing food in the Duos Food Trailer when the company started operations in December 2010.

Regina Mehallick

Mehallick opened the prestigious R Bistro on Mass Ave. in 2001, years before Indy gained its culinary reputation. The restaurant helped build Mass Ave. and get the city’s burgeoning independent dining scene going. Well ahead of the local food trend, Mehallick became known for creating weekly menus based on seasonal produce and artisanal foods.

In 2011, the cook Regina Mehallick poses in the kitchen of the R-Bistro with her freshly prepared traditional Irish salad.

Mehallick received five nods to the semi-finalist of the James Beard Award, and R Bistro was recognized by the New York Times. To make her work easier, Mehallick closed the R. Bistro at the beginning of 2016 and shared her cooking knowledge and that of other chefs during lessons at R2GO, the specialty market that she ran from late 2014 to early 2019. There she continues to hold cooking classes and pop-up dinners, often focusing on international recipes.

Katelin Rupp

Indianapolis is the home of the meat. Breaded pork fillets are the size of placemats, and in the city center alone there are 10 steakhouses within half a kilometer of space. That doesn’t stop Rupp from promoting plant-based food, helping Vegas find restaurants, and constantly promoting the annual Indy VegFest, which she and her husband launched in 2017. Almost 5,000 people attended the first event. The dozens of vendors and exhibitors at Indy VegFest, as well as cooking classes, show that eating less or no meat is doable, tasty, and good for personal health and the planet.

People are waiting in line at Pan Am Pavilion to attend VegFest on Saturday.  Thunderstorms and heavy rain caused several cancellations, such as Race for the Cure for the first time in its 26-year history and the Indy Humane Society's Mutt Strut at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Jessica Taylor

If you’ve enjoyed a perfect cocktail in Circle City, there’s a good chance Taylor influenced its maker. When judging local cocktail competitions, bartenders rave about advice whether their entries win or lose. Taylor kindly gives you guidance on everything from appropriately garnishing to presenting a polished workspace.

Jessica Taylor stands in front of the built-in storage room for alcohol in her closet.

Her expertise is based on a deep interest in liquor (her home collection is huge), formal training, and years of bartending work, including several years as an executive at the JW Marriott in downtown Indy. Since 2014, Taylor has held six positions with the US Bartenders Guild, including the Indianapolis Director of Education and Vice-Chair, and now the Chair of the guild’s National Board of Education. She is also a mixologist / spirits educator at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits

Follow IndyStar food writer Liz Biro on Twitter: @lizbiro, Instagram: @lizbiro and on Facebook. Call them at 317-444-6264.