At age 17, Alan Sternberg was a dishwasher. And now, at age 29, the executive chef of Cerulean is a 2016 James Beard Awards semifinalist.

In the 12 years since he began his career, Sternberg has worked as chef de cuisine at The Local Eatery & Pub and as executive sous chef at Mesh on Mass. He joined Cerulean in May 2014, and is known for his creative flavor combinations and modern presentation. In fact, his dishes—cauliflower “steak,” heartland NY strip, Spanish octopus—are so beautifully constructed that sharing photos of them on social media is practically a necessity.


You’ll see pistou the shade of a shamrock, turnips sliced thinner than dimes. The entire menu—released in late 2015 in honor of Cerulean’s third anniversary—is filled with fresh ingredients, fun colors, and decadent desserts from pastry chef Pete Schmutte.

Appetizers, entrees, sandwiches, side dishes—you name it. Sternberg has given them a playful twist. It’s this type of experimentation that earned Sternberg (and three other Indianapolis chefs—Jonathan Brooks of Milktooth, Greg Hardesty of Recess, and Abbi Merriss of Bluebeard) a spot on the 2016 James Beard Awards list.

While the other three chefs were named as semifinalists in the “Best Chefs: Great Lakes” category, Sternberg was included in the “Rising Star of the Year” category. (Let’s also take note of Martha Hoover of Patachou Inc., who was nominated for “Outstanding Restaurateur.”) All of these individuals were chosen as semifinalists from a pool of approximately 20,000 submissions. Quite an honor. 

Recognition from the James Beard Foundation puts Sternberg, Cerulean, and Indianapolis in the national spotlight. But here in Indy, Sternberg is already a celebrity. People come for lunch, for bento boxes. They crave the brussels sprouts. They savor each bite of the wild Alaskan salmon entrée. And the young, talented chef behind those dishes ensures that they represent both him and Cerulean’s tagline: contemporary cuisine, Hoosier sensibility.