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Indy’s top chefs: Steven Oakley of Oakley’s Bistro

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An intense passion for food has led one local chef to a career of learning and helping others. He was even featured on a prominent national food show and competed against a celebrity chef!

Steve Oakley, chef and owner of Oakley’s Bistro in Indianapolis, began cooking more than 40 years ago. He says he got his first job when he was 15, working at a French restaurant.

“My mom kind of inspired me … there was an add in the paper and I was looking and I was kind of interested and I said, ‘Well, I don’t have any experience.’ She said, ‘Just go tell them you’ll work for free.’ And so I did! Of course, who wouldn’t want free help for a little bit? I picked herbs for a couple days and worked my way into the kitchen,” Oakley said.

He fell in love with the culinary world. That interest and love was inspired by his mother and grandmother.

“Always loved getting my hands in on everything and helping out mom and grandma in the kitchen. From there, it kind of escalated to working in local restaurants,” Oakley said.

He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1990. Originally from northwest Indiana, he moved back to Chicago and began working professionally. He made stops in New York City and Arizona, and has won numerous awards.

He has lived in Indianapolis for more than 30 years now and opened Oakley’s Bistro on West 86th Street in 2002.

“Here at Oakley’s, it’s kind of American cuisine, a little bit of flair of local ingredients. Some local duck from a couple hours away and pork and things like that. We try to be fun and playful, a little innovative, but yet approachable and comforting in a way,” he said.

Oakley says he has experienced a lot in his decades cooking. In fact, he got the chance to compete head-to-head with celebrity chef Bobby Flay.

Oakley challenged Flay with the restaurant’s delicious shrimp corn dogs on the Food Network show “Beat Bobby Flay”.

“He usually wins 85%-90% of the time and we caught him on an off day and ended up beating him,” Oakley said. “That was a great stepping stone for the restaurant.”

Oakley hopes his food brings people together.

“I think the food is the bridge that kind of brings that together, brings family, friends, community together,” he said.

Oakley loves what he does, and looks forward to the years — and dishes — to come.

This is the second story in a series we’re calling “INside Story.” The rest of Davids stories looking at Indy’s top chefs — as recommended by Visit Indiana and Visit Indy — will air each evening this week on News 8.