Fort Wayne isn’t the only city with culinary talent: Meet 5 chefs making great food in Wabash County
Fort Wayne isn’t the only place in Northeast Indinan with a growing culinary scene. About an hour Southwest of the city, Wabash County has an ever-expanding roster of culinary talent worth exploring.
Here are five Wabash chefs making mouthwatering local cuisines.
1. Chef Heather Chenault, Wabash Womans Clubhouse
Chenault has been working as the Executive Chef of Wabash Womans Clubhouse for 16 years. Built in 1889 as an orphanage, the Clubhouse hosts community programs, and events, and serves as a private, rentable venue.
With a degree in Creative Writing from Purdue University, Chenault never imagined she would have a career in the culinary arts. When she moved back to Wabash and was looking for a job, she was hired as a prep cook for the Wabash Country Club. Chenault says it was a “fantastic job,” and her boss at the club, Chef Travis Latta, trained her in the kitchen.
“In my early days, Chef Latta taught me culinary techniques and presentation,” Chenault says.
After the country club, Chenault found herself at The Country Post in Huntington. Like Chef Latta, the Owners, Don and Kathy Elmore, were helpful in her culinary journey. The Elmores saw potential in Chenault and sent her to business seminars.
“They really taught me how to run a kitchen and do it well,” she says.
Today, Chenault still applies these skills as Chef for the Wabash Womans Clubhouse, where she’s proud to work and give back to her community.
“It’s nice to be a part of the preservation of the building and its history,” says Chenault.
The Clubhouse hosts a monthly luncheon every 2nd Tuesday from September to June. But the building is primarily used for special events. Chenault enjoys creating soups and salads for the Clubhouse, but her kids would say that her meatballs are the best thing she makes.
“Food is joy and art and love,” Chenault says. “It gives me joy to feed a group of people and make them happy.”
2. Chef Harry Kilmer, Harry’s Old Kettle Pub & Grill
Kilmer has been the Owner and Head Chef of Harry’s Old Kettle Pub & Grill for 10 years. He says cooking has always been a part of his life.
“I can remember standing on a chair stirring cake mixes with my sister when I was five,” Kilmer recalls. “My grandfather would cook steaks, and I would stand by and watch.”
Kilmer’s first job was at a pie house in Indianapolis when he was 15, but he explored many different careers before landing in culinary arts.
“I sold insurance; I worked at a pet store; and I worked in factories, but I always gravitated back to the restaurant industry,” he says. “It just came to me naturally.”
In his late 20s, Kilmer decided he wanted to make a career out of his love for cooking. So, he started an apprenticeship with the American Culinary Federation. His training led to jobs at high-end country clubs and golf courses in Florida.
Kilmer eventually found himself as the Executive Chef for the Honeywell Center in Wabash. After serving in that role for 10 years, he decided to leave and open his own restaurant. Kilmer and his wife, Judy, purchased The Old Kettle in 2011. The Kilmers were then selected by Small Business Revolution, an original series by Deluxe, to receive a restaurant makeover. With the help of Amanda Brinkman and Robert Herjavec, they transformed the kitchen space and menu into what it is today.
“My biggest enjoyment about being a chef is just being able to serve people and make them happy,” he says.
The dish Kilmer’s known for? His mac and cheese.
“I make a good mac and cheese, but I never thought I would be known for it,” Kilmer says. “It’s traditional but nice and creamy.”
3. Chef Carrie Reynolds, 4 Partners in Crime
Reynolds has been the manager of 4 Partners in Crime (4PIC), a restaurant serving tapas and craft cocktails, since it opened in November 2022. Owner Julie Dickey met Reynolds shortly after moving to Wabash from California. They were instant friends, and when Julie learned that Carrie was a talented baker, she invited her to join her new restaurant venture.
“She’s a creative spirit like I am, so it just made sense that we do this together,” Dickey says. “The bonus I get is a great manager in the business and somebody who’s my sister-friend.”
In addition to creating a lot of the desserts for 4PIC, Reynolds helps with menu planning, food prep, and event planning. With no formal training, Reynolds credits her mom for her skills in the kitchen. As the youngest of six, she watched her mom prepare and cook three meals a day.
Before her role at 4PIC, Reynolds baked for family and friends out of her home.
“Everyone around Wabash knows Carrie for her baking skills,” Julie shared. And now as the Executive Baker for 4PIC, Carrie’s desserts are making a big splash. The most popular? Her butter cake.
“Everybody loves it. We can never get rid of it,” Reynolds says.
She says she loves her role at 4PIC because of the joy that her desserts bring other people.
“I remember when we first opened, and I was standing in the kitchen watching people talk and eat and enjoy their food,” says Reynolds. “It was so fulfilling.”
4. Chef Marcy Rife, Market Street Grill
Rife has been working at Market Street Grill (MSG) since 1996. Now serving as the Executive Chef, she does everything from creating a monthly menu to maintaining food costs and providing training for kitchen staff. She’s spent her entire career in restaurants, starting in high school when she was hired to bus tables at Mike’s Little Italy, a restaurant previously in Wabash.
“I didn’t like it, so I was like ‘Get me in the kitchen, and I’ll do whatever,’” Rife recalls. “So they put me on dishes, and it went from there.”
In the late 80s, Rife realized she wasn’t being offered the same opportunities as her colleagues, so she decided to pursue professional culinary training.
“I really loved the business, and I loved cooking, so I went to school,” Rife says.
She enrolled at the American Culinary Federation in Richmond, VA, to be certified as a chef. She eventually found her way back to Wabash.
After almost 30 years at Market Street Grill, Rife loves the creative freedom that the restaurant offers her.
“They give me freedom on cooking and creating specials,” she says.
She created one of MSG’s most popular items on the menu when she started there: Chef Marcy’s Market Street Grill Burger.
Rife says she loves being a chef because every day is a new adventure.
“It’s something new every day, if you want it to be,” she says. “The art of cooking is almost like you’re in art class.”
5. Chef Eric Wilson, Twenty – Charley Creek Inn
Located inside the historic Charley Creek Inn, Twenty serves handcrafted delicacies in Wabash. Wilson has been the Executive Chef there for six years. He first found his love for cooking in 7th grade home economics.
“We learned how to make pasta from scratch, and I went home and made ravioli for my family,” Wilson recalls. “That was the first time I made dinner for my family.”
It was only shortly after this middle-school experience that Wilson worked in restaurants; he took his first restaurant job at 14. Wilson went to college in Kalamazoo, MI, with the intention of becoming an accountant. But in his early 20s, he realized that he wanted to make a career out of his love for cooking.
“I liked the rush of cooking and the joy it brings to people, so I made the decision that I wanted to be a head chef,” Wilson says.
To pursue his dream, Wilson eventually enrolled at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute in Chicago, a Le Cordon Bleu program. He worked at restaurants in Chicago and Kalamazoo before finding his way to the Detroit area. He was working at Tallulah Wine Bar and Bistro in Birmingham, MI, when a headhunter contacted him looking to fill a Head Chef position in Wabash.
“I was a little shocked at first, coming from big cities like Chicago and Detroit to a small town like Wabash,” Wilson says. “But I talked to my mom and dad, and they thought it would be a good move for me.”
Wilson thought Twenty was great and had a lot of potentials. Now he serves as a cook, a teacher, an accountant, and a manager. But his favorite thing about being a chef is touching people’s lives.
“How many times am I a part of someone’s first date?” asks Wilson. “I’m a part of peoples’ weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. I try to make their experience something special.”
His most popular dish? Wilson says he likes to think all of his dishes are his best.
“That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child,” he says.
While most people in Northeast Indiana might gravitate toward Fort Wayne for a good meal, do not forget about the small towns in the region that offer up excellent culinary experiences, too.
Now, go out and try them for yourself!
Wabash is the focus of our Partner City series underwritten by Visit Wabash County. This series will capture the story of talent, creativity, investment, innovation, and emerging assets shaping the future of Wabash County, about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne.