Tag Archives: Kelli Marks

Giveaway: Tickets to Tomorrow’s Signature Chef Gala for March of Dimes

23 Oct

Kellis courseNote: This post is a giveaway of two tickets to tomorrow night’s Signature Chef Gala for March of Dimes, valued at $150 each. See the end and follow directions to win tickets!

About this time last year, I tagged along with Kelli Marks of Sweet Love to help her with a fun event, the Signature Chef Gala for March of Dimes.

At this event, chefs from the top restaurants in Arkanasas serve small plates from stations surrounding an elaborately decorated, festive ballroom at the Statehouse Convention Center. It’s quite the soiree.

Back at the bakery, Kelli had already prepared three desserts for the event: a pumpkin latte cake, a chocolate panna cotta with cocoa nibs, and a spice cake. My job was to help plate, garnish and describe the goodies to the crowds.



I love working at this kind of event, where you get to interact with attendees. I cut cake and slung sauce like a mad woman. Okay, so I tried to help loosen up that caramel sauce by putting it in some hot water and turned it all crystally…that was my bad. But Kelli never got frazzled, getting everything out and working the crowd like the pro she is.

Kelli Marks of Sweet Love describes each dish to a Signature Chef Gala patron.

Kelli Marks of Sweet Love describes each dish to a Signature Chef Gala patron.

And, of course, her stuff was delicious. People came back several times saying hers was the best table of all.

This year, the event promises to be just as awesome (probably even more so, since I won’t be working!). The chefs scheduled to participate are:

  • Stephen Burrow, Clinton Presidential Center
  • James Hale, Acadia
  • Kelli Marks, Sweet Love
  • Donnie Ferneau
  • Kent Walker, Kent Walker Cheeses
  • Dan Capello, Little Rock Country Club
  • Titus Holly, The Pantry
  • Rachel Boswell & Sally Mengel, Loblolly Creamery
  • Marshall Smith, SO Restaurant
  • Chris Bray, Bray Gourmet
The Signature Chef Gala is known for elaborate decoration, great music and amazing food.

The Signature Chef Gala is known for elaborate decoration, great music and amazing food.

Tomorrow night (Thursday, Oct. 24) is this year’s Signature Chef Gala, and I have an opportunity for you and a date/friend/whoever to attend! 

Just comment saying which chef’s table you would visit first and why. One comment will be chosen at random tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 23) at 6 p.m. You can get an extra chance by sharing this post on Twitter or Facebook; just let me know you did so in your comment. Please only comment if you will be available to attend tomorrow night. 

Good luck!

March of Dimes Arkansas
Signature Chef Gala
Statehouse Convention Center
Thursday, Oct. 24
6 – 9 p.m.

Random numberUpdate: Turns out our earlier winner is unable to attend, so we did a second randomizer. The winner is Shannon Riley! As before, I counted the comments, counting twice for people who shared on another platform and not counting duplicate comments. (I know, it’s confusing when I have to approve it before it appears. Sorry!) I put the total number in a random number generator and counted down to that number.

We’ll do something like this again when we have more time to build up to it. I didn’t give you much time to get the word out, but I’m so glad to be able to share tickets to this great event! 


Valentine’s Gifts for Foodies — Salted Caramels from Sweet Love Bakes

5 Feb
Vanilla Salted Caramels from Sweet Love Bakes on Cantrell.

Vanilla Bean & Sea Salt Caramels from Sweet Love Bakes on Cantrell.

In November, I finally made good on a several-month threat to haunt fellow ad-agency-escapee Kelli Marks for a day at her adorable Little Rock bakeshop, Sweet Love Bakes.

For most of a day, I followed her around and made stuff. Or, I at least watched her make stuff. She did let me at a few things, like the French macarons (not to be confused with American coconut macaroons) and some of her famous red-velvet cupcakes. I also totally messed up some fondant figurines I attempted to make for a gingerbread house competition she was entering.

While I’ll dish more of my experience in a writeup on my Stage Project page (hey, get off me, I’ve been busy!), I wanted to tell you about something. Something really sexy, melty, sweet and salty. Something incredibly appropriate for your Valentine, I promise.


Salted. Caramels.


Because I have to be gluten-free, there wasn’t much at the bakeshop I could sample for myself. On the day I hung out, I bought a handful of the two things I could have: the aforementioned macarons (made with almond flour, if you didn’t know), and the caramels. The macarons were delicious, especially the pink champagne flavor. They are a lovely, rich pink color that’s perfect for a Valentine’s gift. Get some of those, too, in a lovely pink gift box.

Did I mention the caramels?


I’m out of control.

They have just enough structure to unwrap them and get them to your mouth, and yet they have a bit of chew. One or two chews in, they start to melt into a salty-sweet pool of awesome on your tongue. If you enjoy an even more toothsome bite, you can put them in the fridge.

They don’t stick to your teeth. How does she do that?

While you chew the caramel, your teeth crunch against tiny pieces of sea salt, which, as any good foodie knows, magnifies the flavors of anything and pairs surprisingly well with sugar. Flecks of vanilla bean add a fresh, floral touch. Sweet Love also offers caramels in honey/almond and coffee varieties. I can’t seem to get past the awesome of the original.



Okay, I’m done now.

Go by Sweet Love Bakes and get a cute little pink box full of them. At just 50 cents each, they’re incredibly affordable, so load up. You might have her tape it shut, lest you are tempted to eat them all before that sweet gifting moment.

Feeding Arkansas’ Hungry Kids, One Celeb Chef at a Time (No Kid Hungry Little Rock Dinner 2012)

1 Aug

Lovely table settings by Share Our Strength staff and volunteers.

Tuesday night, Governor Mike Beebe told a sold-out crowd at the Oxford American headquarters that Arkansas has become a success “poster child” for the No Kid Hungry program of Share Our Strength, the nonprofit group working to end childhood hunger in America by 2015. And based on the results of the event, raising over $30 thousand with a night of spectacular culinary achievement, I am not at all surprised.

The local chef rock stars who cooked for the event included Jeffrey Owen of the Capitol Hotel, Brian Deloney of Maddie’s Place, Kelli Marks of Sweet Love and a host of rising-star culinarians and other volunteers. The out-of-towners included two Top Chef graduates: John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss. (Top Chef Masters, season 3) and Marcel Vigneron of Modern Global Tasting Inc. in Los Angeles (Top Chef, season 2).

Share Our Strength is holding other No Kid Hungry Dinners across the country to raise funds for their worthy programs, including the Cooking Matters program I had the privilege to teach this summer. The secondary purpose, however, is to create a buzz, getting folks together who love to cook, love to eat and love to make sure our kids have the opportunity to do both.

Behind the scenes was an absolute hoot. The best thing about being one of those up-and-coming culinary types is being able to schlep into these things as extra hands, learning from everyone there. I was able to help plate dishes, wipe other dishes down (the rental company didn’t send them all clean!), even deliver dishes to the waiting crowd of about 120 guests.

I absolutely loved watching the chefs prepare their dishes. Each chef, from the locals to the guest chefs, had something extraordinary to offer. As I watched Vigneron finish his plates of pea soup with peas, salmon, beets, beet ice cream and a beet chip, I was astounded by the level of mastery. And, honestly, at that point in the evening I hadn’t even realized why he looked so darn familiar! (I’ll tell you this: His jerk persona on Top Chef was all editing. He’s a doll.)

The other chefs all brought their own passions, as well. Currence was especially passionate about the Cooking Matters program, telling me about the Chefs Move to Schools kickoff event he helped cook for at the White House earlier this year. He said it was essential that we work to get kids excited about healthy cooking, just as previous generations of kids were the family catalysts for litter control and recycling.

Our own local chefs created amazing dishes, as well. Owen’s cocktail-hour appetizers reflected the precision and depth of flavor that embodies the Capitol Hotel. Deloney presented the first course, a “muffaletta” napoleon of heirloom tomatoes, showcasing the beauty of fresh, seasonal ingredients. Newcomer Kelli Marks astounded the seasoned veterans with her light, perfectly balanced cheesecakes. (Vigneron loved them.) And without credit on the program, former Argenta Market chef Shane Henderson, now with Ben E. Keith, prepared beautiful vegetarian entrees on the fly for those who requested them.

Before the event even got rolling, the former-PR-person in me had to go work the crowd during cocktail hour. Turns out I walked by just as P. Allen Smith was walking in, as he was one of the guest speakers for the event. Bless his heart, the awesome ladies who came in from Share Our Strength in Washington, D.C. didn’t know who he was! I helped them all alleviate the situation without anybody getting embarrassed. My reward: Soiree and the Dem-Gaz snapping photos of me with said Mr. Smith. The white coat, they love it, even if I’m a nobody.

I may write a separate post about just hanging out with these awesome folks all evening. It’s a story unto itself. But, for now, enjoy these photos knowing that we’re this much closer to No Kid Hungry in Arkansas.

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Cooking — Why it Matters (Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry event July 31)

9 Jul

For the past month, I’ve traveled over to the Arkansas Foodbank every Friday afternoon to teach a super-awesome group of folks how to cook.

The program is called Cooking Matters, a program of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. The goal is to help lower-income families learn to shop, cook and eat in a way that is affordable and healthy.

As is often the case with such things, I think I’ve gotten more out of it than the students have. But that’s not to say they aren’t learning, too. Each week, several participants have a “eureka” moment when they realize they like brown rice, they like the taste of foods with less salt, or they actually enjoy broccoli.

Cooking Matters is fairly new in Arkansas, only having had a few classes over the past two years as they geared up through the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. Mine is the first to use the “Families” curriculum, meaning we have kids and adults cooking and learning together. Now, local coordinators are seeking out new locations and instructors to place classes all over the state.

Each week, we get settled into our “kitchen” (some classes are taught in an actual kitchen, while others, like this one, are done in a meeting room) and begin with a lesson from a nutritionist. (Last week’s demonstrated the amount of fat in a fast-food meal by putting equivalent amounts of Crisco on a bun. Several haven’t had fast food since!) Then, we review topics such as knife skills, food safety or the like, and then we go over the recipe for the day.

Then it gets crazy! The room buzzes with the happy madness of several families cooking at once. I demonstrate each step from my station, and then sometimes walk around to help the students complete it. When we’re done, we all gather together at a large table, demonstrating the importance of eating together as a family. Here, we try each others’ dishes, talk about the lesson, laugh, learn from each others’ lives. Then I close with a challenge for the next week, such as choosing healthy ingredients or limiting fast food.

I’m writing this now to tell you how you can help. I’ve seen firsthand how lives are changed. Not only do I hope the program becomes funded for expansion, I want you to feel the happiness of knowing you’ve changed lives for the better — with cooking.

On Tuesday, July 31, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is holding a fundraiser event at The Oxford American that is a must-attend. The funds will stay in the state to fund Cooking Matters, as well as to help increase participation in existing programs such as WIC, SNAP and summer feeding programs. (For more info on why, read this; many hungry Arkansas kids don’t take advantage of the help that’s available.)

I seriously hope you’ll take action today to make sure you’ll be there. Tickets are $150 each, with table sponsorships available for $1,500. Ask your employer to participate, especially if you’re in the food industry.

The No Kid Hungry Dinner will be hosted by Chef Donnie Ferneau (Rocket 21) and will showcase the talents of some of Little Rock’s best chefs, including Brian DeLoney (Maddie’s Place) and Kelli Marks (Sweet Love), as well as visiting chefs John Currence (City Grocery, Oxford, MS) and Marcel Vigneron (Modern Global Tasting Inc., Los Angeles, CA).

You can buy tickets online or get more information about the event here.

P.S. Chef Donnie Ferneau has approved my schlepping in the kitchen for the event, so I’ll be live-blogging (or after-the-fact blogging, depending on how busy he keeps me) the whole thing, from the perspective of the chefs! Stay tuned.