Indy Like a Local: Hattie McDaniel

Who is Hattie?

Pastry chef at Vida Restaurant and a semi-finalist in Zagat’s 30 Under 30 list of food and drink all-stars

Q. What piqued your interest about becoming a pastry chef?

A. I grew up in Indianapolis, on a small lake near Fort Ben. Growing up, I was always either outside playing in the woods or inside baking and making cooking shows with my friends. My grandmothers, Dorothy and Emma-Lou, were both great cooks and bakers. I am named after my great-grandma, Hattie Behr, who used to run Barringer’s Tavern. It’s no longer open, and it’s sad to drive by and see that. I dream that some day someone will make it great again, along with the neighborhood. I have never wanted to open a bakery or own a restaurant, but if I could be a part of bringing Barringer’s back to life, I would jump right on that opportunity. Another Hattie in that kitchen could be exactly what it needs, plus a lot of renovations and upgrades! Since I’m her namesake, it has always been my passion and chosen career field from a very young age. Yes it’s cliché, but I have honestly always wanted to be a pastry chef. My grandma and great-grandmas’ spirits have definitely played a huge role in leading me in the right direction in the industry.  

During my two years at Johnson and Wales University, I was accepted into the study abroad program and spent two months in Yssingeaux, France. In France, I attended Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie where I earned a Certificate of French Pastry Arts. After graduating, I immediately started working at Peterson’s. Except for a few family recipes, I was able to create desserts and test many different things in order to fugure out my pastry style. After working there 2½ years, I heard of the opportunity at Vida, which was opening in a few months. Cunningham Restaurant Group’s gem has given me the opportunity to refine my craft and challenged me to create amazing desserts. I love the atmosphere there and the team I am surrounded by every day. 

Vida

I find the culture and diversity of restaurant kitchens so beautiful and inspiring. I love going into work to spend my day cooking with a buch of misfits who push, inspire, and challenge each other. At the end of the day, my favorite part about working in restaurants is hearing peoples’ reactions to my food. I love when guests come to talk to us in the kitchen, and when people say, “That dessert reminded me of…” I want my desserts to bring back happy memories and feelings for people.

Q. Is there one recipe you’ve made that’s especially near and dear to you?

A. The ricotta doughnuts we serve at Vida are very special to me. They are inspired by my grandma’s dumplings. The recipe is based on hers, but they are fried instead of boiled. The texture is very similar, light and custardy on the inside. It’s a complicated texture. The maple cream is one of my secret weapons. It’s amazing on anything from coffee to the corn panna cotta on the menu now and of course, the famous doughnuts. They are so special to me because they ignite my grandma’s spirit in me when I see that people love them so much. Like I said, it’s all about the guests’ reaction for me. I love making people smile through my desserts, and the doughnuts get everyone, every time. 

Q. What other places around the city do you admire for their sweet treats?

A. Tim’s Bakery in McCordsville – I live on the northeast side of town. Growing up, we would always get doughnuts at Tim’s, and nothing has changed since. It’s a very simple storefront. You can see Tim making the doughnuts through the front window, and when they run out, they run out. They are the best glazed doughnuts ever!

I love The Gallery Pastry Shop in SoBro. They have amazing style and really great European-inspired pastries, but not too classic that it becomes boring. Chef Ben Hardy put together a very talented pastry team. They have great French macarons and individual glazed mousse cakes that taste as beautiful as they appear. They source local ingredients and celebrate Indiana farmers within pastry. 
Nicey Treat – how can you go wrong with a popsicle? I love childish sweet treats, and they have such fun, creative flavors.
NiceyMy favorite coffee shop, Coat Check Coffee, makes great croissants on a really small scale. They take the time to do it by hand, which I really respect as a pastry chef. 
Circle City Sweets: You have to go there on doissiant days, I think the first Friday of every month. They are sort of an investment, but worth it! The croissant-doughnut hybrid can be filled or unfilled, and you can taste every layer of European butter. 

Q. Are there any techniques or flavors you’re experimenting with these days that we might eventually see on the Vida menu?

A. I am always evolving and experimenting with different techniques and flavors, so you never know what I’ll come up with. Recently, I’ve been playing around with cereals and junk foods. We currently have a potato chip–crusted chocolate tart on the menu, with butterscotch potato chip bark and lemon curd. I have been testing a Fruit Loop semifreddo. Next, I want to work with horchata (Mexican rice milk with cinnamon) and matcha and other types of creams and milks, like macadamia nut milk and coconut. I love popcorn right now, especially caramel corn. I am brainstorming a caramel corn and cheddar corn dessert, like the Chicago mix, for fall. I could go on and on about the possibilities. My brain just lights up when I think of one idea, I move on to another, and then eventually something sparks my memory, and I create a dessert out of it. 

Q. What are your go-to restaurants in Indy? Do you have a favorite dish at any of them?

A. Honestly, if I could eat anywhere in Indy, it would be Vida. We are constantly growing, just like our hydroponic wall, into better chefs and creators. I love the food we serve and I would put it against any other spot in town. I have never actually eaten at Vida, as in sit down in a chair and do all the courses with wine, but I hear it’s amazing! I am lucky enough to have Sundays and Mondays off, so I do get to eat out some. 

I love Tinker Street because of its honest atmosphere, welcoming, neighborhood vibe, and excellent food. The chef, Braedon Kellner, is so talented and very humble. His food is very honest and respectful of the ingredients, which is what I look for when I eat out. He is also really good at desserts, which is rare in savory chefs.
 
I have never had a bad meal at Bluebeard. They also have amazing artisan bread that is baked at their own Amelia’s bakery. The food can be hipster, but it is always so good. 
 
I may be biased, because Livery is a CRG restaurant, but I would go here even if it wasn’t. Livery is the coolest place on Mass Ave. The chef, Casey Frank, used to be the sous chef at Vida. They serve Latin American food and really good cocktails. I love the décor and the open-air dining room. They have the best rooftop bar in town, and it’s tucked between buildings so it’s very quiet. They have the most amazing Brussels sprouts!

Q. Any particular spots you favor for a nightcap or adult beverage?

A. Usually, by the time I get off work, I just want to go home and sleep, but on the occasional night out I always go to the same places. Livery, again, the rooftop bar is my favorite place in town to have a drink, and they have two bars inside with the same great atmosphere. I love the bar at Union 50, and you can get fries all night. On Monday, they have stand-up comedy and they have live music on weekends. Kilroy’s isn’t very fancy, but I’m a sucker for the breadsticks and pitchers of Long Islands in 1,000,000 flavors. 

Kilroy's

Q. Where do you go for fresh air?

A. Every Sunday, I go to some park around Indianapolis. We love to go outside with the dogs, and Indy has so much to offer. I love the fact that you can drive 20 minutes in any direction surrounding Indianapolis and find a great city or state park without going all the way to Brown County or Turkey Run (but I would do both in a heartbeat). We live on the northeast side, around Fort Ben, so we have a lot of wooded areas to go to. Eagle Creek Park is so nice and close for Indianapolis visitors. As far as downtown goes, Ellenberger Park in Irvington is one of my favorite spots. They have a lot of green space to sit under a tree and fields for our two pit bulls, Ivanko and Clarence, to play in. The Canal is also a great place to walk and see the city from within. Westwood Park is my secret park north and east of the city. They have a 10-mile trail around a lake. It’s a hard hike, but worth it! 

Q. Do you have a favorite neighborhood or area where you like to hang out or spend the day?

A. I prefer to spend the day at home in Oaklandon in my backyard with my boyfriend and my dogs. But I like to go walking on the Monon and get coffee and walk around Broad Ripple. The Meridian-Kessler neighborhood is my favorite for people-watching and house-fantasizing. 

Q. Which festivals or annual events are always on your calendar?

A. Strawberry Festival on the circle. Rev at the Speedway is really fun. I’ve always gone to work, but everyone gets really dressed up, and they have a DJ out on the track. I love the zoo and Zoobilation is always a really fun event with open bars and food-sample tents. This year we won best dessert at Zoobilation with my ricotta doughnuts!

Q. If you’re a shopper, what locally owned boutiques do you frequent?

A. I love all of the small boutiques in Indy! My favorite is Silver in the City for last-minute gifts and fun stuff. Homespun on Mass Ave for home décor and all things craftfully made. Pitaya in Broad Ripple has cute, affordable clothes, and Delaney’s on the north side has a more chic selection. I also always have to stop by Three Dog Bakery and get a treat for my boys.

Three Dog Bakery

Q. Have you recently discovered any hidden gems in the city?

A. Coat Check Coffee is a small coffee shop in the Athenaeum theater. The butterscotch latte is amazing and everything is really thought out. Nicole Taylor’s for fresh pastas that you can take home and cook. The Gallery Pastry Shop is hidden in SoBro, and they have a great tucked-away patio. You can see their garden from the Monon, so it’s a great spot to stop for a pastry and coffee while walking the Monon or for brunch on weekends. Turchetti’s Salumeria is opening soon in the old Marrow space in Fountain Square. They do all of their own cured meats and salumis the old-school way with new flavor combinations. Guanajato Carniceria is a Mexican grocery store with a restaurant that serves giant meat platters. Peform Daily Fitness is my personal training studio. You get one-on-one time with the coach/owner, Drew Shoemaker, in a completely private environment. So you don’t have to worry about judgment or distractions. I have to be strong for my job, so before or after a 12-hour workday, I always fit in a lift. 

Q. Where do you like to take out-of-town guests, especially if they have never been to Indy before?

A. I always send out-of-town guests to Vida first because they always want to try my work. If they have never been to Indy, I recommend spending a little time in each neighborhood to get a well-rounded feel of Indianapolis.

Q. What are some things you would do if you had one day to spend any way you'd like?

A. I would start my day at Perform Daily Fitness with my personal trainer. In my free time, I am usually lifting weights there. Then, I would get breakfast at Rize at Keystone at the Crossing and do some shopping. After that, I would pack up the dogs and head to one of our favorite parks and play with them or go for a hike. We would go to Metazoa Brewing Co. for a fun beer – they have creative, fruity flavors. And they have dog beer and a dog-friendly patio! I would take the dogs home and rest for a few, then get ready for a progressive dinner downtown. I would start at Bluebeard for a few small plates and frou-frou cocktails, then I stop at Bakersfield Mass Ave for a snack and a drink. Then I would drive to Tinker Street and have dinner. Next, I would go to Vida and sit in the bar and have dessert and a glass of wine. After that, I would go to the rooftop bar at Livery and have a draft margarita and Brussels sprouts (I know it’s out of order, but they have the best Brussels sprouts). After that, I think I would be dead and I’d go home and sleep. 

Q. Do you have a favorite holiday memory or tradition? Are there any holiday events in town that you make it a point to attend every year?

A. Monument Circle is magical during the holidays. I love to get hot chocolate on the circle and just hang out around the tree. Holidays are a really busy time at work, so I try to just spend time at home or with family during my time off. 


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