Iron Chef 2015 at the Arkansas Hospitality Association Convention

17 Sep
Final plate by Chef Casey Copeland

Final winning plate by Chef Casey Copeland of SO Restaurant & Bar in Little Rock.

Iron Chef Arkansas! One of the coolest competitions all year. It’s time for some food photos and feats of culinary strength. If you’re unfamiliar, this competition takes place on the floor of the annual  Arkansas Hospitality Association Vendor Showcase and Convention. Eight chefs of AHA member restaurants, clubs or catering operations from across the state are invited to compete. Through 40-minute heats over two days, the chefs must use the ingredients of a mystery basket and show their skills and creativity.

But first, a mea culpa…

I admit it, I haven’t blogged much lately. The blogging experts always say not to acknowledge it or apologize for it, but it’s just true. Things are going well for, and I’ve spent my time and energy there. (Plus there’s a whole burnout thing with food blogging for so many years.)

All that to say, I’m sitting right now at the Arkansas Hospitality Association Vendor Showcase and Convention, as I have for many years now. The first day of the show, yesterday, I spent my time at the booth helping candidates and employers get registered on our site. Today, I need to get back to my first love! Some of the chefs yesterday even asked me about the blog. One even said his wife and friends usually follow my live coverage each year (ouch).

As the day goes on, I will update this post with yesterday’s winners, photos of dishes, and the details of today’s competition. Stay tuned, and watch on Instagram or Twitter at @arfoodie.

Wednesday, Sept. 16

Heat 1:

  • Chef Gilbert Alaquinez, Sous Chef at Clinton Presidential Center
  • Chef Shane Curley, Sous Chef at Tusk & Trotter
  • Chef Jason Knapp, Executive Chef at Sysco Arkansas
  • Chef Brian Kumrow, Sous Chef at Southland Park Gaming & Racing

Mystery Basket: 1855 Ribeye, Figs, Masa, Cauliflower.
Chef Shane Curley was eliminated.

Heat 2: 

  • Chef Jeff Caruso, Executive Chef at Little Rock Marriott
  • Chef Casey Copeland, Executive Chef at SO Restaurant & Bar
  • Chef Justus Moll, Executive Chef at River Grille Steakhouse
  • Chef Breck Hatcher, Executive Chef at YaYa’s Eurobistro

Mystery Basket: Trout, Baby Kale, Cucumber, Grapefruit.
Chef Breck Hatcher was eliminated.

Heat 3: 

  • Chef Justus Moll, Executive Chef at River Grille Steakhouse
  • Chef Gilbert Alaquinez, Sous Chef at Clinton Presidential Center
  • Chef Jason Knapp, Executive Chef at Sysco Arkansas

Mystery Basket: Crystal Lake Farms Chicken, Duck Bacon, Mushrooms, Beets.
Chef Justus Moll was eliminated.

Heat 4: 

  • Chef Casey Copeland, Executive Chef at SO Restaurant & Bar
  • Chef Jeff Caruso, Executive Chef at Little Rock Marriott
  • Chef Brian Kumrow, Sous Chef at Southland Park Gaming & Racing

Mystery Basket: 1885 Strip, Butternut Squash, Horseradish Root, Asparagus.
Chef Brian Kumrow was eliminated.

Thursday, Sept. 17

Heat 5: 

  • Chef Casey Copeland, Executive Chef at SO Restaurant & Bar
  • Chef Jeff Caruso, Executive Chef at Little Rock Marriott

Mystery Basket: Arborio Rice, Muscadine Juice, Jicama, 1885 Skirt Steak
Chef Jeff Caruso was eliminated. Chef Copeland will move forward to the final heat.

Heat 6: 

  • Chef Gilbert Alaquinez, Sous Chef at Clinton Presidential Center
  • Chef Jason Knapp, Executive Chef at Sysco Arkansas

Mystery Basket: Salmon, Dragonfruit, Rambutan, Rice, Stick Pasta, Watermelon
Chef Jason Knapp was eliminated. Chef Gilbert Alaquinez will move forward to the final heat.


  • Chef Gilbert Alaquinez, Sous Chef at Clinton Presidential Center vs.
  • Chef Casey Copeland, Executive Chef at SO Restaurant & Bar

Mystery Basket: Whole Duck, Canned Truffles, Yukon Gold Potatoes, Arugula

WINNER: Chef Casey Copeland, Executive Chef at SO Restaurant & Bar

Watch the winner announcement here.


Diamond Chef Arkansas 2015

2 Jun
Chef Justin Patterson (right) and sous chef Daniel Rogers plating during the competition. The team won the preliminaries and will compete against Marc Guizol in the final on June 2.

Chef Justin Patterson (right) and sous chef Daniel Rogers will battle reigning Diamond Chef Marc Guizol tonight at the Statehouse Convention Center.

At somewhat the last moment, I have decided that I’d rather not slog my laptop into the formal venue tonight at Statehouse Convention Center during the Diamond Chef Arkansas competition benefiting Pulaski Technical College.

However! I hope you will follow along on Twitter, as I will be furiously tweeting each round of action on the stage and each course of the lovely meal I’m sure they have in store for us.

In case you missed it, tonight’s event is the final battle between last year’s champion, Marc Guizol of the Capital Hotel, and this year’s winner of the preliminary competition, Justin Patterson of the Southern Gourmasian. Oh, how I wish I could be a judge tonight and taste the dishes they put out!

I do plan on taking copious photos of those dishes, so check on Twitter and later tonight on the blog for all the goods.

Gluten Free Options at the Greek Food Festival

13 May

When I think of the Greek Food Festival, I think of my wedding day.

Of course, I had absolutely no intention of attending the festival that year, which began the day before our nuptials. A girl can’t be bothered when she’s got to rest up, get her hair done and spend the rest of the day at the church-house getting ready to marry her best bud. Then, we’d be off to our honeymoon; no time for a stop-off.

My husband-to-be, however, couldn’t stay away. The siren call of baklava and (unironically) wedding cookies was too much to handle. The morning of our wedding, while my bridesmaids and I fretted and prepared, he hauled down to the Greek Orthodox Church in search of goodies. He loves to tell the story: He walked up and asked if he could buy some things, despite the fact that they weren’t quite open yet. A couple sweet, older Greek ladies started to tell him no, but he told them (with a super-cute face, I’m sure) that it was his wedding day. They oohed, awed, and relented. That white paper bag of awesome fueled much of our honeymoon.

Some years later, I found out that I wasn’t supposed to eat gluten anymore, so baklava and cookies were off-limits. We still attend the festival and find other things for me to eat, and there are always plenty of activities and shows to keep our whole family busy.

This year, the Greek Food Festival folks tell me that there are a few items that are safe for gluten-intolerant folks like myself, given you aren’t exceedingly sensitive to cross-contamination. Fellow GF’ers, I present to you your weekend to-eat list:

These side dishes take center stage for GF patrons prepared with proper crackers or raw veggies.

These side dishes take center stage for GF patrons prepared with proper crackers or raw veggies.

Hummus dip (without the pita bread, obvs) and tabbouleh salad from the Jerusalem Café. Let’s face it, Greek folks know how to do hummus. With a little foresight, you can enjoy this right alongside your gluten-eating family. Just swing by Dempsey or your favorite grocer to pick up some GF crackers, and you’re all set. (I prefer Dempsey’s cracker bread, BTW. It’s so good, my whole family eats it.)

Tender lamb, savory potatoes and more. Just minus the pita, please.

Tender lamb, savory potatoes and more. Just minus the pita, please.

Roast lamb dinner—Sliced roasted lambserved with Greek-style vegetables and oven-roasted potatoes. Again, this is generally served with pita, so be sure to tell the server not to put it on your plate. You’ll have plenty of other yummy options on it. If you need bread to sop up all that goodness, bring some GF something-or-other in your bag. I won’t tell anyone.

Amazing hunks of meat love. Just ask them to leave off the pita.

Amazing hunks of meat love. Just ask them to leave off the pita.

Greek souvlaki/kabobs—Your choice of tender chicken or pork tenderloin, marinated in olive oil and a blend of Greek seasonings, grilled and served on a skewer. Again, be sure to tell the server not to include the usually-mandatory pita on your plate. I think this will be my first choice this weekend. Then again, I may hit all three.

Are you sad about leaving off the pita bread? I mean, it is pretty amazing. Don’t fret, friend! Just make a batch of this gluten free naan I wrote about a while back. Sure, it’s Indian, but honestly naan and pita are pretty close to the same thing. Sneak these into the festival with you and you’re golden.
Are you going to the Greek Food Festival? What are you planning to buy, GF or not?
2015 International Greek Food Festival
Friday, May 15 (11 a.m. – 9 p.m.) through Sunday, May 17 (11 a.m. – 3 p.m.)
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
1100 Napa Valley Drive, Little Rock

#ArkansasGives: Give Some, Eat Some for Charity

2 Apr

ArkansasgivesToday the Arkansas Community Foundation is rallying Arkansans, who are traditionally pretty charitable anyways, to commit the day to giving extra to nonprofits who do good work right here in our state.

ArkansasGives is a 12-hour online fundraising event happening today from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Arkansas Community Foundation is challenging all Arkansans to make a donation to their favorite charity on a single day, and they are adding bonus dollars and prizes on top of the money that comes in from the public. More than 350 nonprofits are participating, and they’re all driving their donors to give via, where the ACF will be tallying the donations in real-time and posting them on leaderboards.

So, what does this have to do with food? Well, for one, many food-related charities are benefiting. My favorite, the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, manages all the No Kid Hungry / Cooking Matters programs in the state, of which I have taught more than a few. Whichever food-related charity you’re drawn to, today is a great day to ensure their operations.

Need more motivation? How about food trucks?

The ArkansasGives event headquarters are at AT&T’s building at 1111 W. Capital, and they have given permission to have four food trucks set up out front during lunch (11 – 1:30). Each of the trucks has chosen a participating ArkansasGives charity they will support with 10% of their proceeds from the day.

Participating trucks will include Southern Salt, Loblolly Ice Cream, Hot Rod Wieners and Katmandu Momo.

So, donate, rally supporters of your favorite charity, and come on out for a lunch that gives!

Diamond Chef Prelim 2015 Live Results

31 Mar
Chef Justin Patterson (right) and sous chef Daniel Rogers plating during the competition. The team won the preliminaries and will compete against Marc Guizol in the final on June 2.

Chef Justin Patterson (right) and sous chef Daniel Rogers plating during the competition. The team won the preliminaries and will compete against Marc Guizol in the final on June 2.

Heat 1: Billy Ginocchio of Pulaski Tech vs. Payne Harding of Cache
Basket: Creekstone Farms ribeye, whole redfish, Cervasi peppered, McCormick Mediterranean sea salt, blood orange, rum, chocolate caramel Chex mix

Winner: Harding

Heat 2: Justin Patterson of Southern Gourmasian vs. Angela Nardi of Superior Bath House
Basket: Creekstone Farms brisket, whole Bronzini, Cervasi balsamic glaze, McCormick rubbed sage, heirloom cherry tomato, Boulevard Pale Ale, Butterscotch oatmeal bar

Winner: Patterson

Heat 3: Elliot Jones of YaYa’s vs. Jason Knapp of The Green Leaf Grill
Basket: Creekstone Farms beef tenderloin, grouper sides, Cervasi Spicy procuitto spread, McCormick smoked paprika, dragon fruit, sherry, chocolate chip oatmeal bar

Winner: Jones

Heat 4: Harding vs. Jones
Basket: Creekstone Farms Flank Steak, whole flounder, Cervasi tapenade, McCormick whole caraway seeds, passionfruit, marsala, Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Peanut Bar

Winner: Jones

Heat 5: Patterson vs. Jones
Basket: Creekstone Farms bone-in short loin, cobia sides, Cervasi aged cheddar, McCormick cream of tartar, kumquat, peppermint Schnapps, Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Almond Bar

FINAL WINNER: Justin Patterson of Southern Gourmasian. He will compete against Marc Guizol of Capital Bar & Grill in the June 2 final at Statehouse Convention Center. Patterson won against Jones by just half a point (162 to 162.5).

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Diamond Chef growing right along with Arkansas’ food scene

23 Mar

The kind folks at the Arkansas Times (hat tip to fellow foodie and new full-time food editor Michael Roberts) allowed me to do a writeup in the venerable Eat Arkansas blog today, talking a bit about Pulaski Technical College’s Diamond Chef competition.

Diamond Chef is important to our local food scene for lots of reasons, including some you may not know. ::Cough community college funding cough:: I hope you’ll read all about it.

Check it out!

Competitors Announced for 2015 Diamond Chef Arkansas

28 Jan

Diamond ChefArkansas’ biggest culinary competition is gearing up for its 2015 season: Diamond Chef Arkansas.

This annual event is a fundraiser for the Pulaski Technical College Foundation and is tied closely with the college’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute, which will host the preliminary competition on Tuesday, March 31, 2 – 8 p.m.

The preliminary event whittles down a large field of contenders in double-elimination style, with a full docket of the state’s best culinary talent (see below). That day’s winner will compete one-on-one against 2014 Diamond Chef winner Marc Guizol of the Capital Hotel in the finale, held Tuesday, June 2 at the Statehouse Convention Center.

Competitors in this year’s preliminaries include:

  • Billy Ginocchio, Faculty, PTC Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute
  • Payne Harding, Executive Chef, Cache
  • Elliot Jones, Executive Chef, YaYa’s Euro Bistro
  • Angela Nardi, Executive Chef, Superior Bath House Brewery & Distillery
  • Justin Patterson, Executive Chef, Southern Gourmasian
  • Jason Knapp, Executive Chef, The Green Leaf Grill

The preliminary event is casual, open to anyone, and free to attend, which I highly recommend if you have even the slightest love for fine food and friendly (albeit heated) competition. Just drop in anytime from 2 to 8 p.m. at the culinary school on March 31.


Diamond Chef Arkansas Preliminary Competition
Pulaski Technical College – Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute
13000 Interstate 30, Little Rock
Tuesday, March 31, 2 – 8 p.m.
FREE admission, drop in anytime
(501) 812-2860

Historic Arkansas Museum 10th Ever Nog Off Tonight

12 Dec
Overhead view of the gorgeous atrium at Historic Arkansas, during a previous Nog Off

Overhead view of the gorgeous atrium at Historic Arkansas, during a previous Nog Off

It’s time to get your nog on with the “10th Ever” Nog Off at Historic Arkansas Museum, held as part of the 2nd Friday Art Night tonight from 5 to 8 p.m. Admission is free.

As you may know, I was the PR director at Historic Arkansas during the transition from its former name, the Arkansas Territorial Restoration, and the opening of their incredible new (at the time) facility. (Confession? It hurts my feelings to say it’s not so new anymore!)

Back then, which was 12-14 years ago, we had a really great annual staff Christmas party that always included museum director Bill Worthen making eggnog. And this wasn’t any eggnog — it was 100% historically accurate, made exactly from the recipe of William Woodruff, one of the museum site’s original residents in the mid-1800s. Let me tell you, that was some stout stuff that this lightweight couldn’t roll with.

Somewhere along the way, the staff had the amazing idea to open the eggnog festivities to the public, inviting them to enter their own ‘nog for judging and public consumption. Today, a dozen-ish competitors offer their drinks to the attending public, and from last year’s experience, I can tell you that they’re all very palatable. (Well, I can’t say ALL…I’m no lush, you know.)

This year’s competitors include Cache Restaurant, Capital Bar and Grill, Copper Grill, The Empress, Loblolly Creamery, Bridget Fennel Ferris, John Selig and Family and Stone’s Throw Brewing.


This year the competition will begin with a ceremonial cracking of the first egg by the first two inducted Nog Emeriti – Louise Terzia, the First (and Second) Ever Nog-off winner,  and David Burnette of South on Main who has won the Nog-off in various categories a record four times.

Visitors can start 2nd Friday Art Night at Historic Arkansas Museum’s 10th Ever Nog-off, where there is plenty of free parking, and later catch the trolley to other participating venues. Shuttle service ends at 8:30 p.m.

While at the museum, check out the museum’s new exhibits: Capturing Early Arkansas in Depth: The Stereoview Collection of Allan Gates and “this is the garden: colors come and go” Works by Rachel Trusty.

10th Ever Nog Off
Friday, Dec. 12, 5 – 8 p.m.
Free admission and parking
Historic Arkansas Museum
200 E. Cumberland St. (Corner with 3rd), Little Rock
(501) 324-9351

Sometimes, you just need a corn dog. #glutenfree #giveaway

8 Dec
Crispy, delicious, gluten free corn dogs. Like whoa.

Crispy, delicious, gluten free corn dogs. Like whoa.

Disclaimer: Yeah, another semi-sponsored post. I’ll write up the killer chicken soup I just made pretty soon, as well as a review of a paleo-style dinner I recently attended. But this is free GLUTEN FREE corn dogs, people. And they’re awesome. And I knew they were awesome before I was contacted about giving them away, and I wouldn’t have put them on here if they weren’t. So there. 🙂 

Over the past ten years or so, I’ve learned quite a bit.

Eat whole, unprocessed foods to be healthy.

Eat a minimum of sugar, fat and starch if you can help it.

And the best rule of all: Every so often, shuck the rules.

Unfortunately for me, my rules must always include being gluten free, lest I spend the next day or so in the bed or restroom. (Le sigh.) So, when the time comes to totally be naughty, what do I want?


I want a corn dog. A crispy, salty, delicious corn dog.


A few months ago, I noticed someone on the local Gluten Intolerance Group Facebook page talking about some amazing new gluten-free corn dogs that were available at Kroger. “Not me!” I silently gloated. “I don’t eat such things.” And I stared. And I really, REALLY wanted one. Slathered with mustard. Mmmmmmmmmmm…….

So the next time I was at Kroger, I looked around. Nobody was looking. I slid some into my cart. BAM.

gf_corndogsThey were Foster Farms Gluten Free Corn Dogs. And they were glorious. I found that I liked them cooked a little longer than the package says — baked in the oven, of course, not nuked — for optimum brown crunchy awesome.

So, although I usually tell people NOT to buy a lot of pre-packaged gluten free things, let me just assure you that it will be okay. As long as this isn’t representative of your diet, you’re gonna be fine. A few packages of gluten free Oreo-lookalikes won’t kill you, either. (Omigosh Trader Joe’s, WHY won’t you come to Little Rock??) Trust me, my pantry has its share of occasional treats.

Want to give these dogs a try? Sure you do.

It just so happened that, about a month after I purchased the aforementioned box, Foster Farms contacted me about the same product. I figured I could confess to them that I’d already bought some. And they had a cool offer for my readers who also just really, really wanted a (gluten free) corn dog.

Bite at angle

Mention in the comments how you like to eat your corn dogs. (With ketchup or mustard? Part of a meal or alone? Balanced with fruit and/or veggies or whatevs?) We’ll pick five commenters and Foster Farms will ship you your VERY OWN BOX, you guys. Comments close on Monday, Dec. 22.

I’m like the Oprah of corn dogs.

Oprah of corn dogs

Now that my secret is out, I guess I’ll eat more salad this week.

And some Joe-Joe‘s…

Holiday Tips and Recipes from ‘Tis the Season Class

24 Nov
cheese wafers spicy pecan crackers

Pecan Cheese Wafers from Saveur Magazine. These were the BOMB!

I was a goofy, disjointed mess at Friday’s ‘Tis the Season event at Central Baptist Church in North Little Rock, and that made it more fun. At least for me. I’m blaming my lingering cold, so there.

This annual women’s event includes a potluck the likes of which you’ve never seen (including some Burge hams provided by the church), door prizes, and the highlight: choosing three of nine available classes on topics from hair braiding and games to cake decorating and my class, holiday cooking.

I learned from the event flyer that I was sharing tips and tricks (ha), so I came up with these:

  1. Buy one good chef’s knife and learn how to use it. No need for a huge knife set! Maybe add a paring knife, and you’re set. I showed everyone my favorite santoku knife and said a regular chef’s knife is just peachy as well. Look for one in the $30-50 range for everyday use. I also demonstrated the very basics of knife work and how to cut things up safely.
  2. Take advantage of small appliances when tackling holiday cooking. For this class, we focused on the food processor and the magical things it can accomplish.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make a recipe your own! Take an old family favorite or something new you found online. Look in your cupboards for new ingredients you can use. Or just go crazy and make something up! Once you learn the basics of how ingredients go together (and I can help if you need it), the sky’s the limit.

The first item I made is a cranberry relish I’ve served at several Thanksgiving and Christmas events over recent years, from the Simply Recipes blog. Since it’s not my recipe, just click the link to check it out! This relish is super simple, with just four ingredients, and it freezes beautifully.

At the class I demonstrated in real time what happens if you overload your food processor with this recipe…you get perfectly-sized relish, with huge chunks of apple and orange throughout. Even if you have a big processor like mine, do half of the recipe at a time to ensure better uniformity, pulsing the processor until it’s just right. And if you have a meat grinder, use that instead for a PERFECT texture!

The next item was a pecan cheese wafer from Saveur magazine’s website. This is an innovative twist on the spicy cheese cracker I’ve made before (as here in culinary school), adding a pecan half with an egg white as “glue.” The pecan’s sweetness perfectly balances the salty, spicy cracker. This recipe is easily made gluten-free, too, since there is very little flour used and the low-protein GF flour keeps the crackers light. I used Cup for Cup for mine.

My only complaint about the Saveur recipe as published is the quantity listed. The recipe claims a yield of 2 1/2 dozen, rolling the crackers to 1/8 inch thick. This is actually pretty thick for a cracker, but I went with it since it’s easier to cut and transfer to a baking sheet that way. I QUADRUPLED the recipe and got just around 3 dozen. I imagine the Saveur folks actually rolled them much thinner in their test kitchens, likely 1/16″ or so. If you want to roll it that thin, try rolling it directly onto some parchment paper on the back of a baking sheet, baking it as a solid sheet. Once it’s crisp, break the sheet into “rustic” uneven pieces. (If you were at the class, you’ll get the joke about “rustic.”)

The final recipe was my own invention, a “Thanksgiving Dinner in a Bite” canapé (see below). This is the demonstration of tip #3 above, creating something completely different on your own. Using a few simple ingredients and fun techniques, I inventioneered this while planning the class. I couldn’t taste-test due to my gluten problem, but class visitors said it was pretty good! Somehow I managed to not take a photo both times I made it, so you’ll have to trust me. It’s pretty cute.

If you attended, thanks for coming by, and sorry I was a little crazy! But as I said, life is more fun that way, right? Let me know if you make any of these, and let me know if I can help!


“Thanksgiving in a Bite” Canapé
Makes 24 pieces

  • One box of frozen puff pastry
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 thick slice of deli turkey or about 1 cup leftover roasted turkey
  • 4 oz. cream cheese (1/2 a standard box)
  • 1/2 cup cranberry relish
  • Optional: 2 T. sour cream or plain yogurt
  • Optional: 2 chives, cut into several 1-inch pieces

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees, and move the puff pastry and the cream cheese to the countertop about 30 minutes before starting the recipe.

The puff pastry should still be cool when you’re ready to cut out your circles. Dust a smooth working surface with flour and unfold the puff pastry onto it, then dust the top of the pastry with flour as well. Using a rolling pin or similar device, roll the pastry out just slightly to smooth it out.

Press straight down into the puff pastry with a 1 1/2″ round or scalloped cutter and move the cut rounds onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. The sharper the cutter is, the easier this step will be and the higher the rounds will puff.

Bake the rounds for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and punch down in the middle with the round end of a wooden spoon or similar utensil. Place back in the oven for 2-3 minutes or until the rounds are slightly browned on the bottom. Allow the baked rounds to cool before filling.

If you would like to lighten up the cream cheese, mix it thoroughly with the sour cream or plain yogurt. (It’s fine without it, just a bit heavier.) Place the cream cheese or the mixture into a piping bag or a freezer bag (don’t use a standard sandwich bag or the seams will burst). Cut off a corner and pipe a small amount, maybe a half teaspoon, into each baked puff pastry round.

Place a small piece of turkey into each round on top of the cream cheese. If you purchased the turkey at the deli, cut it into cubes and smash it a bit so it won’t look so “manufactured.”

Scoop a 1/2 teaspoon or so of the cranberry relish on top of the turkey, and garnish with the chives if you want. Pretty and delish!