Aaron Butts Executive Chef – Joseph Decuis Restaurant – Roanoke, Indiana
“Great things happen in small town America,” said Pete Eshelman, proprietor of The Joseph Decuis Restaurant. Pete made this comment recently when the restaurant he, his wife, and brother operate won yet another prestigious culinary award. The restaurant, located in Roanoke, Indiana is a true gourmet dining experience and features the expertise of Executive Chef Aaron Butts. Aaron and his staff showcase locally raised food specifically beef, eggs and vegetables from the Eshelmans partner operation The Joseph Decuis Farm.
The story of Joseph Decuis began when Pete and his wife Alice moved to Indiana from the East Coast in 1986 to pursue a business opportunity. They headed for rural Indiana to run a sports business specializing in insurance for the sports and entertainment industry. Pete’s brother Tim joined them in Roanoke in 1989.
Business obligations meant they entertained clients in their home extensively. This worked well for a time. But soon it was clear a larger and more permanent dining facility was needed. The family purchased and converted an old bank building in the town of Roanoke turning it into a private restaurant. However, news travels fast in a small town. Soon word about the outstanding food and service at Pete and Alice’s place spread. Locals began to call the restaurant “great food in a bank”.
In 2000 they opened the restaurant to the public and named it Joseph Decuis. The name honors the family’s Louisiana ancestor whom they credit for their belief in the power of the American Dream. The name also continues the family’s long standing tradition of fine dining.
Aaron Butts joined the Joseph Decuis team in 2000 as a chef. His culinary expertise, leadership, and management style soon stood out and he was promoted to head chef in 2005.
Aaron got his cooking start in high school. “Working in a restaurant kitchen for me at that time was just a job, something to earn money,” he said. “I was lucky enough to step into something that I didn’t know I would be good at, and didn’t know I would enjoy so much. I liked everything about working in a kitchen, the dynamics of the process, the cooking and the techniques. I picked up the skills needed to advance my cooking style fairly fast.”
Not one to be content with the status quo, Aaron strived to broaden hisknowledge of his craft. Several years ago he spent a busy five weeks working at The Fat Duck restaurant in England. “Alice and Peter were on a trip to England and heard about The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, England. At the time the Fat Duck was rated the number one restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine,” Aaron said. “They told me about it and thought it might be a good idea for me to check it out. I sent them my resume and applied for an internship and they accepted me. I spent five weeks there and learned a lot about technique and methods. The nice takeaway was that the methods they were utilizing and the way they ran their kitchen was just about the same way we were running things back home. It felt good to know that our restaurant was being operated like the world’s best.”
In addition to his culinary skills, Aaron holds the Court of Masters Sommeliers Certification and is very interested in the slow food movement. This movement strives to preserve traditional cooking and farming methods with special attention to preserving the environment and local ecosystems. Aaron was chosen to represent Indiana in Turin, Italy for the Terra Madre. Coordinated by the Slow Food Organization, the Terra Madre is an international network of food communities interested in sustainable food production. Each year an annual conference is held to discuss the latest innovations in food, economics, and globalization issues. Aaron’s participation is yet another example of his determination to grow in his profession and make certain Joseph Decuis is the finest it can be.
And the finest it is. Joseph Decuis was recently awarded top national honors from food critics and organizations. The restaurant was named one of the top 50 restaurants in the United States by Open Table Online, a reservation and guest management system. It has also been awarded the F our-Diamond rating by AAA and the Best of Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator.
The restaurant cooking style takes a worldly approach, a mix of Italian, classic French, contemporary American, and Asian. According to Aaron, “We like to be inventive about what we do in the kitchen but at the end of the day the food is very honest. Our staff takes a straight forward approach to cooking. We put an enormous amount of time into the preparation of our food and a great deal of focus on the techniques we use. For example, our stocks are made from scratch and are consume quality. Making them is a fairly time consuming step that a lot of kitchens wouldn’t bother doing. We use the stocks in everything, from thinning sauces to braising. It really makes a difference in the final product.”
Aaron also runs the Culanarium, the restaurant’s master research and production kitchen. This kitchen supplies food to the Joseph Decuis Emporium, a retail store, as well as other partner retail sites around Indiana. “We take signature dishes from the restaurant and put them into retail packaging. The consumer then has easy gourmet food to pick up, take home, and heat up,” said Aaron. Specialties of the Culanarium include sauces, gumbos, meatloaf, and desserts.
The public may also take cooking classes at the Culanarium. “The classes are for people who are interested in cooking but may want to learn more about how a professional kitchen operates and how professional chefs do things. We teach very simple but important techniques, how you hold a knife for example, can make a huge difference in your cooking. We talk about substitutions, enhancements to food and ways to do things differently. We don’t just show you how to do things, but explain the chemistry behind cooking – what actually goes on when you apply heat to a pan for example – the mechanics of the kitchen,” Aaron said.
The Joseph Decuis Farm supplies meat, eggs and vegetables to the restaurant. Aaron and his staff travel directly to the farm to harvest food. “All our chefs go out to the farm to collect vegetables and herbs. It’s a great learning experience for everyone. A lot of people don’t grow up around a farm. And a lot of chefs only recognize their vegetables by the box that is left at the backdoor of their kitchens every day. By taking them out there I can show them what a ripe beet looks like, or when a pepper is ready to be picked for example. They pick it and wash it and take it back to cook it and it gives them a greater sense of ownership over their dishes. It’s a direct connection from the earth to the plate. Our chefs know where the food comes from and appreciate the work that goes into growing the products. I really believe this knowledge helps them appreciate what it takes to produce high quality food.”
The kitchen also believes in the head to tail philosophy of using and animal. “We use everything we possibly can – every part of the animal is utilized. Nothing goes in the trashcan. It’s a very respectful way to honor that animal. There is no waste,” Aaron said.
The Certified Humane® designation is an important one for the Eshelmans and Aaron. “We are proud of what we have done the past eleven years. All our efforts have been in a responsible manner; from buying and serving food to meeting and knowing our patrons and taking the necessary steps to have high quality items on the plate.”
The bottom line for the Joseph Decuis Restaurant is quality and respect for food starting at the beginning. “The way we treat our animals and use them in our cooking deepens our respect for them and for the food we put on the plate. It’s not just a practice it’s a way of life for us,” Aaron said.
Reservations are recommended at Joseph Decuis and dinner Hours: 5:30 – 10pm, Monday – Saturday. Please call them at 260-672-1715, or visit: www.josephdecuis.com for more information.
The Restaurant is located at:
Roanoke, IN 46783-1064
To learn more, visit their website at: www.josephdecuis.com
For information on where to find other Certified Humane® products in your area, visit the “Shop” page of HFAC’s website.