07 Mar Chef Joseph Hsu’s 5280 Bistro Melds Creative Food And Indiana Craft Beer
In our continuing series concerning people combining their skills with craft beer to enrich the craft beer community and industry, here is the story of a world class chef bringing his food to craft beer. To be sure, enhancing craft beer with his food isn’t his only passion, but Chef Joseph Hsu of 5280 Bistro has very much started to influence the brewpub experience. Joe has found a niche, pairing his upscale comfort food with Beer drinkers – in his words, “The right kind of crowd for his work.”
Born in Taiwan, Joseph moved with his family to the United States when he was just twelve years old. After completing a degree in business finance, Joe decided that the corporate world was not his cup of tea – he actually decided this a bunch of times, but more on that below. Joe’s passion for food led him to an American Culinary Federation Internship and the AAA 4-diamond Circular Dining Room at the Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania.
Starting out washing dishes and peeling potatoes, Joe quickly worked his way to executive sous chef, and parlayed that experience into stints as Executive Chef in restaurants in Denver and New York and as Regional Chef for Landry’s Restaurants in several states. Later, Joe went the corporate chef route, first for Red Cross National Headquarters then at AOL Headquarters in Virginia. This was an on-again off-again relationship, with Joe quitting the corporate world four separate times, just too corporate and not his style. After being drawn back in three times, Joe made the final break and returned to Colorado and the Simm’s Steakhouse in Denver.
It was here that Joe began to branch out in the community, working with school corporations to improve the flavors in healthy lunches, with consultation and with community events. All of this paid off when he and his wife and child moved to Indianapolis and began all his present efforts.
So what is Joe into here in Central Indiana? Try this on for size. 1) Joseph is the Executive Chef for the Indianapolis Zoo, as well as two other facilities in the Centerplate field. As such, the Indianapolis Zoo was the first zoo in the country to achieve the REAL (Responsible Epicurean Agricultural Leadership) certification. 2) Joseph is an ACF Certified Executive Chef and maintains a healthy work schedule within the program. 3) He is active in the Chefs Move To School program and still works with school lunch programs here in Indiana. 4) Joe often serves as a guest chef at restaurants, hospitals and the like.
Whew, that is a full plate – but it isn’t all. In 2016, Joe started the 5280 Bistro that has many functions, including cooking classes for kids 8-13, professional chef career consultation, the 5280 Food Truck, 5280 catering, and menu development and training for restaurants like MashCraft Fishers.
The bistro called 5280 Bistro isn’t a brick and mortar restaurant, it’s a clearinghouse for many of the chef related activities Joe has going on in Indianapolis. Named for the mile high city (elev. 5280 ft.) of Denver, even the colors and design of the logo demonstrate Joe’s love for Colorado. I think we need a state law preventing him from ever leaving.
Joe’s business finance training has served him well in his 5280 experience, finishing in the black after his first year and expanding during his second and third years – or maybe it’s just that the food s that good. The 5280 Bistro food truck has been an exceptional success, thriving in a time when many food trucks have gone the way of the dodo.
So much of Joe’s ingredients come from farmers’ markets, especially the Fisher Farmer’s Market, and he credits this with a lot of his success. He says it’s easy make great food when you start with great ingredients. The PB&J is one such creation; roasted pork loin sliced thin topped with pepper bacon, fig & plum jam, served on pretzel bun. Ok, now I’m hungry.
Joe wants to be involved in the community in which he lives, and he looks for ways to connect to that community. It was this desire that led him to set up shop at the First Annual Savor Lebanon Craft Beer, Food, and Wine Festival in 2017. This was Chef Joe’s light bulb moment when it came to craft beer, food, and his place within both. All his accomplishments makes it clear that while he may not need the craft beer crowd for his business, he certainly enjoys working with them.
Joe was impressed with the adventurousness of the craft beer fan and their ability to enjoy different flavor profiles. But, he says, they aren’t pretentious, just folks that enjoy good products. After Savor Lebanon, Joe starting working with more beer and music events, such as at Klipsch Music Center and the Jazz on the Lawn at the Farm Bureau Lawn at White River State Park.
The first year of these endeavors taught Joe a lot, like early eaters are more open to upscale food, while late night drinkers and those late into beer events want one thing – totchos. But Joe was a beer fan before all this got started, but he has found kindred souls in most craft beer drinkers. They are laid back, happy to try new things, but just as ready ready to enjoy a PBR on a hot afternoon. It’s one of things he likes about beer, it can cover the gamut of flavors and styles, all of them ready to pair with food, but at the same time being more casual than wine. The beer helps the food shine, and vice versa.
It was this growth in experience with beer and food that led Joe to MashCraft in November of 2017. Joe’s 5280 headquarters is just north of the MashCraft-Fishers location; he drove his truck past the location every day as the transformation from Heady Hollow to MashCraft. A phone call to Andrew Castner and guest chef beer dinner at MashCraft on Delaware, and the plan was on for Joe to design and implement the menu for the Fisher location.
This has also been an eye-opening experience for Joe. Just as he can construct a dish in his head and predict the flavor profile and high notes, he found out that Andrew can do the same with his beer. Telling Joe how a beer that hasn’t been made yet will turn out gives Je a head start on producing a menu or dish that will compliment it. For example, when I visited last week, Joe was working on a jambalaya recipe to work with the MashCraft IPA.
In this effort to match beer and food, Joe points to Taxman in both Fortville and Bargersville as great examples of how to produce food and beer that make each other even better. Clearly, Joe has taken this lesson to heart and is expanding the 5280 connection with craft beer. Look for the 5280 Bistro truck at many Indiana On Tap events this year – Joe he has found that the craft beer crowd is certainly the right market for him. Either that, or the fact that he can draw everyone in by seasoning the griddle on the truck with huge amounts of bacon every time he sets up shop. Yep, that’ll do it.