One local chef’s passion for food brought him from the grape fields of Napa Valley, California to Greencastle, Indiana. Now, as the executive chef at Bridges Wine Bar, Sal Fernandez is serving up his passion one plate at a time.
When Fernandez was approached about the opportunity to open a restaurant in Greencastle, he saw what some might not: potential. “The equipment that we have, the chefs that I’ve brought with me, all our pasta and our pizza dough is made in house – all of that equipment comes from Italy. There are very few restaurants in the country that have that equipment,” Fernandez said. Bridges’ signature pizza oven is one of only twelve in the world, making it not only a rarity to the rural community, but also on a global stage.
A personal invitation from Judson and Joyce Green brought Fernandez to the local community. He only had one request: to have full control over the menu. The restaurant rotates its menu on a two week rotation. Fernandez is a major proponent of the farm to fork initiative.
“The food here is good because the farmers here are good,” Fernandez said. “My goal here was to connect with the farmers like no other restaurant has.”
Local farmer Bob Zaring is a major produce contributor alongside the DePauw Campus Farm.
“It is truly sensational to work with Chef Sal and watch our vegetables transform into delicious meals,” Malorie Imhoff, DePauw University’s campus farm manager said. “Our primary goal on the campus farm is to connect students with their food systems in a holistic way, and learning how to grow food is only a small part of that.” The other part is through fostering relationships with local chefs, which is exactly what is occurring at Bridges.
“He’s not the type of person that wants to brag on what they do,” Bob Zaring said. Zaring has previously accompanied Fernandez to cooking competitions throughout the state.
Fernandez’s dream of becoming a chef evolved behind the scenes, out of sight of his family, friends or sports team.
“Growing up, I never really talked about it to anybody. Most of my friends didn’t even know that I cooked. But I really loved it,” Fernandez said. “I told my brother that I really liked it and that I wanted to go to Culinary School and stuff. He was supportive of it. He was like ‘Yeah, you should try it. You’re good at it.’ But the rest of my family didn’t even know that I wanted to be a chef.”
Fernandez decided to pursue his passion, but his journey would be far from linear.
“Eventually, I wanted to go to the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America, but I couldn’t afford it,” Fernandez said. However, financial burden didn’t dissuade him. While searching for scholarships, Fernandez found that the Air Force would give him a full scholarship, and he quickly enlisted. After six years in the Air Force, he used his GI bill to go to the CIA. After graduating, Fernandez worked in a series of top restaurants for free as a learning opportunity. Initially, his family’s response was less than enthusiastic, but with the doors of Bridges officially open for business, Fernandez’s family has full faith in him.
“I love it,” Fernandez said, referring to the Greencastle community. “I would have to say as far as farmers and people, it’s the nicest place I’ve ever been in. I like it. I’ll be here for a long time. I’m not leaving Greencastle – hopefully ever!”