Westfield chef Craig Baker to compete in World Food Championships in Las Vegas
Local Eatery and Pub, 14655 N. Gray Rd., is known for its sandwiches and burgers, but it’s an item you won’t find on the menu that has Executive Chef Craig Baker competing in the World Food Championships Nov. 7 through 9 in Las Vegas.
Baker is one of 50 chefs in the World Burger Championship, which offers a $25,000 prize purse, but his route to the contest was unexpected. Baker was asked to participate in the July 13 Baker Bull Burger Battle at Family Leisure on Pendleton Pike by the owner.
“I didn’t realize the magnitude. I thought it was a local cook-off with 10 restaurants,” he said.
At stake was a spot in the burger competition at the World Food Championships and a Bull Outdoor Angus grill, valued at more than $2,500.
“I thought it was a fundraiser. I got there and quickly realized that was not the case,” he said.
With his 10-year-old son as his sous chef, Baker used a little Coleman camping grill while other competitors had teams of six chefs and heavy duty grills.
“I thought I was going to lose,” he said. “I lost first place by a tenth of a point. I didn’t understand the rules.”
Thinking he had to have his entry plated earlier, Baker’s burger absorbed the patty’s juices for 15 minutes causing a soggy bottom bun – something he has already remedied for Las Vegas. Baker’s entry was a 10-ounce bone marrow and bleu cheese-stuffed burger with onion jam and a horseradish cream.
“We had it on the menu right after the competition but the cooking time was not conducive for the wait time of the restaurant,” Baker said, adding it takes more than eight minutes to cook on each side. “It was hard for us to execute.”
General Manager Derek Means said the restaurant will offer the burger upon special request, however, patrons should know it may take up to 45 minutes for preparation and cooking.
Baker credits his mother for his passion for cooking, which started in seventh grade.
“When she went back to work she taught me how to cook,” he said. “When my parents got home my job was to have dinner ready.”
As an undergrad, Baker waited tables and soon moved from the front of the house to the back.
“I cooked my way through college,” he said. “As a chef you won’t make a lot but you also won’t go hungry. You can get a job in any city within three days. It may not be the job you want but it’s a job that’ll provide three square (meals) a day.”
After graduation, Baker followed his passion to Portland, Ore., and into the kitchen of Assaggio, a popular authentic Italian restaurant, where he worked as chef.
“At the time I was at the best restaurant in the city,” he said.
Through the next19 years, Baker excelled in the industry. His first restaurant and bar, Echo, in Portland was ranked one of the city’s top 50 restaurants in 2004-2005 and one of its top 10 new bars of 2004. In 2006, Baker sold Echo to his business partner and relocated his family to Indiana.
“We moved here with the intention of being closer to family,” he said.
Baker enjoys blending a lot of cultures together in his food and enjoys cooking with a “top five” ingredients which includes juniper berries and coffee – grinds or brewed.
“Coffee adds depth of flavor, especially with vegetarian food. It’s a beef broth substitute,” Baker said, adding his favorite protein is pork.
“If you give me a pig, I’m a happy guy.”
Baker said his “death roll” meal is hamburger gravy, mashed potatoes and peas – similar to Shepherd’s Pie without the cheese.
“It’s the best football food ever,” he said.
In February 2011, Baker and Means opened The Local Eatery and Pub, focusing on farm-to-table cuisine for families. The duo met through Sun King Brewing Company founders Dave Colt and Clay Robinson.
“We all talked about opening a brew pub,” Means said. “Dave and Clay decided they just wanted to produce beer but Craig and I stayed in touch … Craig is the driving factor – a lot of heart and imagination.”
The restaurant’s location was not the duo’s ideal spot because the building had sat vacant for almost two years and there is no visibility from 146th Street.
“It was a struggle,” Means said. “The light at the end of the tunnel was not development (around the shopping center) but the faith in ourselves to build something well.”
Entering their third year along Gray Road, Baker and Means are optimistic about the restaurant’s future and the development coming to the surrounding area, including an apartment complex of 250 homes.
“What separates us is our chef and our ingredients,” Means said. “Changing the menu keeps it fresh and change is based on what the season is and what farmers have available.”
Local Eatery and Pub has 65 different food vendors and depends on local farmers for its ingredients.
“We change 12 to 25 menu items every two weeks,” Baker said. “People find an item they love and then it’s gone. We bring back items that are real popular.”
Basing his menu on what’s available locally is a double-edged sword for Baker.
“From the artistic end it’s great. I learn new techniques,” he said. “From the business end it can be difficult. What do we do with leftover items?”
Local Eatery and Pub
Address: 14655 N. Gray Rd.
Hours: The restaurant opens at 11 a.m. daily and closes around 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday.
Kid-friendly: While its title includes the word pub, Local is for family dining and has been named one of the top 100 family restaurants in the nation by urbanspoon.com.