Playing with Food

He started as a busboy at the old Country Kitchen near Washington Center and Saint Joe Center roads when he was 15 years old.

Mike Bentz went from dish-washing to cooking and then to managing the kitchen in a mere four years before heading off to a local Cracker Barrel as a grill and prep cook. That’s also where he got his first taste of Southern cooking and experience in a high-stress environment.

All of that was to put himself through college, and if you asked him then if he’d still be in the restaurant biz, he would’ve called you crazy.

Guess what he’s still doing. 

“I’m super entrenched,” said Bentz. “This is year 30 in this business. It’s been very kind to me.”

Bentz has become a regular among area restaurants. Name a place where the food is delicious, and he’s probably worked there. Acting as sous chef at Hall’s Guesthouse as well as stints at various hotels, a country club and even Bandido’s all led him to opening BakerStreet.

Point being: The man’s been around. And now he’s sharing his knowledge with others who were once in his position — college.

Today, Bentz works as a culinary arts instructor at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast, teaching students the ins and outs of being a restauranteur, be that service or accounting. There’s the food, too, whether it’s seasoning smoked salmon rillettes or prepping a shrimp ceviche or baking mini pineapple upside-down cakes, Bentz is showing the next generation the ropes.

“It’s something I really enjoy,” he said.

He stresses that great service can make a restaurant great, and holds up one of his favorite eateries, Cosmos, as a perfect example. The omelets there are not only filling and spectacular, Bentz said, but the service never, ever leaves you hanging.

“Your coffee never goes unfilled there,” said Bentz. “Service is a huge thing in restaurants. Your food might be good or just okay, but if you have great service I’ll probably come back and keep coming back. At Cosmo’s, it’s great food and great service — the omelets are a feast.”

While he is a teacher these days, Bentz has not left his commercial cooking career.

He frequently cooks at the newly remodeled Rib Room, a local staple and destination for all things barbecue. The restaurant has evolved under Bentz’s direction and recently rolled out a new menu. Bentz also still runs Crackerjack Catering, a business he opened in 2002.

Catering allows him to an outlet to wow wedding and special event patrons with everything from expertly-seared New York strips to perfectly-balanced pasta dishes.

“p3″>Like I said, this business has been good to me,” he said. The Rib Room, 1235 E. State Boulevard, 260.483.9767, theribroom.com

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