Chef Micah Frank, ’98, whips up inventive, yet comforting dishes for the much-buzzed-about Black Market restaurant at the end of Indianapolis’ Mass Ave. Menu items such as rainbow trout atop dill-and-olive panzanella are “teaching Indianapolis how to dine,” according to Indianapolis Monthly.

And it all started with Legos.

A shy child, Frank escaped social obligations by building elaborate structures and drawing 3-D landscapes. Consumed with the fusion of art and nature, the native of Plymouth, Indiana, enrolled at Ball State to pursue a degree in landscape architecture. But a post-college stint in the kitchens of Europe convinced this self-taught culinarian to blend his design aesthetic with a passion for cooking.

Chef Micah Frank

 Chef Micah Frank churns mozza-

 rella to prepare for the lunch

 crowd at Black Market restaurant.

“Memories of my mom and grandma cooking intuitively combined with an interest in modern landscape design and architecture has shaped my approach. Black Market becomes this ‘modern farmhouse’ with one goal: Come ready to eat and dine with an open mind,” says Frank, who was named to the Indianapolis Business Journal’s “Forty-Under-40” list and thrice nominated for Food & Wine magazine’s “The Peoples’ Best New Chef.” “I’m always stressing to my employees that form follows function—the most basic rule I learned through Ball State’s landscape architecture program—whether it’s a building or a plate of food.”

A forward-thinking eatery, Black Market enables Frank to produce edible childhood memories within a casual, upbeat atmosphere. His focus on fresh, local ingredients pushes him to develop menus based on what is available from a growing number of local farmers. “Each week is different,” says the 40-year-old, “which keeps the cooking honest and in the moment.” The craft movement, in particular, has helped put Indianapolis on the culinary map, he says. “We are no longer just thought of as Chain City, USA.”

Food is a powerful means for connecting people, Frank says. As a chef, he’s learned that the best ingredient at times, other than restraint, is approachability. His drive to present comfort foods with a twist reflects strong influences in his past.

“Although I am constantly reading up on trendy restaurants and flavors of the month, I find much more comfort and inspiration with honest, simply prepared meals in unassuming places. I crave ‘food as sustenance over style,’” Frank says.

“I also enjoy researching the origin of certain foods and cooking styles. More and more, I strive to capture a sense of nostalgia with dishes. For Black Market to stay relevant in this competitive industry, we will continue to step back in time for influence. We just can’t get too stuck in the past.”

This story appears in the spring 2015 issue of the Ball State Alumnus magazine.

By Kate Elliott, communications manager and Alumnus magazine editor