Tag Archives: Little Rock

Cafeteria Food Gets Awesome at Green Leaf Grill

24 Jan
A chef tosses a customer's salad to order at Green Leaf Grill.

A chef tosses a customer’s salad to order at Green Leaf Grill.

I don’t do a lot of restaurant reviews, but I had to share an experience from last week. In short, there’s a fairly new cafeteria, or fast-casual, or some kinda restaurant in the Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield building on 7th and Gaines in Little Rock, and it’s pretty amazing.

I was there for a meeting with Chef Jason Knapp about an unrelated business project. If his name sounds familiar, it should; Knapp’s lofty résumé hails from the Governor’s Mansion to the culinary school and Big Rock Bistro at Pulaski Technical College, then Executive Chef of Aramark’s dining program at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

A chef slices tomatoes for the grill station.

A chef slices tomatoes for the grill station.

It was likely at his last two appointments that Knapp got a good sense of what cafeterias need: fast, quality food that can serve a mass of hungry folks when they all show up at the same time. (Note: Much of his work at UCA involved cooking for special functions and executive meetings, giving him the best of both worlds of this type of foodservice experience.) At his new venture in the BCBS building, managed by Compass Group USA, he was given the opportunity to take cafeteria-style efficiency a step further and implement his passions for fresh, scratch-made food, using local ingredients as much as possible.

The spacious serving area has several large sections, including grill, deli, pizza, soups, entrees and a tossed-to-order salad bar. Just walking around looking at each station, one thing became immediately apparent: None of this stuff came from a box. There’s a swarm of young chefs buzzing around each station and in the open-to-view back kitchen, and each one of them has a hand in creating real food. Each freshly prepared item is pleasantly offered in French-style blue enameled cast iron, offering a bistro-meets-home feel.

Fresh vegetable selections in the entree area.

Fresh vegetable selections in the entree area.

I asked the chef what I could eat, having to be gluten-free and all. Usually, in a cafeteria-style operation, I would get glazed looks because they often don’t even know what’s in the food. Knapp immediately rattled off at least three entrees that were safe. He knew every single ingredient because he planned them himself, on a menu that changes daily.

The Shepherd’s Pie was calling my name, with its billowing, toasted peaks of mashed potatoes over fresh vegetables and tender, flavorful ground beef. The sides, however, were the show-stealer. I chose the beet salad with feta cheese and the roasted broccoli, both healthy and beautiful enough to not look it. My meal, with a drink (I chose the cucumber-infused water), came to about eight bucks. Not bad.

That seems to be the idea at Green Leaf, healthy food that you’d crave even if it wasn’t. I ran into a friend who works at Blue Cross, and she said the company was moving in the direction of promoting health in all areas for their own employees, and the restaurant was just one part of that equation.

Luckily, it’s open to the public, too. Check it out (weekly menu here) and you won’t think of cafeteria food the same way again.

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Green Leaf Grill
601 S. Gaines St. (7th and Gaines, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield building)
Little Rock
Breakfast grill hours 7:30 – 9:30 a.m.
Lunch 10:45 a.m. – 2 p.m.

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Foodie Event Roundup for the Week

4 Oct

Ooof. Food coma. Lemme see what I can muster.

This is always a busy time for foodies, with all kinds of events and classes going on. Here’s the scoop on just a few of these things, both for those who enjoy cooking good food and those who just want to enjoy eating it.

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Strip steak with exotic mushroom demi-glace and War Eagle grits and braised greens. Fourth course of five at last night’s The Next Course dinner for Youth Home.

  • Last night’s The Next Course event at the Clinton Presidential Center for Youth Home was amazing! Their equally-amazing event coordinator, Larry Betz, is working on getting the instructional videos shown at the event ready to share with you here, so we’ll wait a little while for the event wrap-up. But I will then definitely share some of the recipes with you, and maybe I’ll tackle one myself. They are fancy pants, indeed.
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  • Tomorrow is the Main Street Food Truck Festival in Little Rock. The guys over at Eat Arkansas wrote a fine roundup of all the goings-on this year, with one notable difference: NO TICKETS. Hooray! Hopefully that will help with the line situation. (See my snarky post from last year on that whole sitch.) Also hopefully, we will have better weather this year than last. I helped my friend Travis Meyer with his smoked sausage stand last year and we got totally soaked. But it’s a great event, and I hope you’ll come, even if you have to wait a bit or get a little wet.
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  • I just found out that Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts is not doing their Harvest Festival or annual culinary competition this year, but is instead doing an acoustic music event this weekend. So if you were looking for that secret ingredient to be announced (I know I wasn’t the only one…right?), you’ll have to keep on waiting. But do go to the new event, which looks like a lot of fun!

Other notable upcoming events and classes:

  • “Southern Comfort with Chef Mark Abernathy,” community education class at Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute. Spend an evening learning techniques and recipes exploring Chef Abernathy’s Modern Southern cuisine, as served at his restaurants Loca Luna and Red Door. Wednesday, Oct. 9, 6 – 8 p.m., $70. Must pre-register by Oct. 6.
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  • “Pasta Party! For the Love of Pasta — Fresh and Dried Pasta and Assorted Pasta Dishes,” community education class at Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute, with Chef Cynthia Malik. Thursday, Oct. 10, 5:30 – 8 p.m., $45. Must pre-register by Oct. 7.
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    Outstanding in the Field’s vintage red bus travels across the nation with supplies for fine dining in the field of your friendly neighborhood farmer, this time in Proctor, Ark.

  • Outstanding in the Field. The OITF vintage big red bus will be making a stop at Delta Sol Farm in Proctor, Ark. next Thursday, Oct. 10. This farm-to-table event — served literally in a field — is one of many the organization has held across the nation, this time highlighting Little Rock’s Chefs Matt Bell of South on Main and Alexis Jones of Natchez, as well as Memphis Chefs Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and Jonathan Magallanes of Las Tortugas, all led by Memphis’ Chef Kelly English of Restaurant Iris. Tickets are $180 and may be purchased at the event website.
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  • “Tasting Like a Pro,” Wine and Spirits community education class at Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute. Learn firsthand, without all the pretentious junk, the common techniques used by winemakers, sommeliers, critics, judges and other professionals, as well as the important wine attributes and essential aromas and tastes of the world’s most recognized wines. Thursday, Oct. 10, 6 – 8 p.m., $75. Must pre-register by Oct. 7.

Lunch at Hanaroo a Hit with a Long Wait

24 Jun
The sushi bento plate with salmon roll. No subs allowed on the nigiri, though.

The sushi bento plate with salmon roll. No subs allowed on the nigiri, though.

Ah, Hanaroo Sushi Bar. The legendary downtown Little Rock sushi joint, where dutiful workers run for a quick Asian repast during their all-too-short lunch breaks.

I’d heard a lot over the years, mostly good. But one thing I’d heard repeatedly was something about cockroaches. Hmmm.

This week, I am working in the office quite a bit more than usual (I’m usually part-time, teaching out of town), burning some end-of-fiscal-year hours. My office is at the 700 Main DHS complex, a quick walk from Capitol and the handful of business-friendly joints in that area. Today, I ventured out in search of food and remembered Hanaroo.

Well, actually, I had already diddled too long looking for somewhere to eat, hovering near Subway (had that last week), Sufficient Grounds (hopped in, but no obvious reference on the menu to lunch food until the sidewalk, on my way back out the other side), and oh yes…Hanaroo. So be it.

I was a little wary about the fact that they likely wouldn’t have any gluten-free soy sauce available, but I decided to risk it anyway. I needed to eat and get back to the office. At approximately 12:09 p.m., I was seated at the sushi bar, an appropriate place for loner diners like myself. Well, actually, I seated myself since nobody came to my aid and I didn’t know the protocol. They could use one of those “please wait for hostess” signs.

By 12:15, I had placed my order, and shortly after that I was presented my miso soup.

Tiny cubes of tofu made the miso soup even more fantastic.

Tiny cubes of tofu made the miso soup even more fantastic.

I love miso soup, y’all. It’s one of my favorite things. I know it’s glutinous and all that (likely containing wheat-laden soy), but I’m willing to take the fall now and then. Hanaroo’s miso soup was a little different, with a heavier texture (meaning they used more miso paste, which is good) and the addition of tiny little tofu cubes. The green onion slices were fresh and pungent, maybe even a little too strong and plentiful for my liking, but that’s just me.

The server came back to me. There are quite a few orders in front of you, she warned. It may be a little while. I nodded a faux agreement. What am I going to say at that point? Hope they’re not looking for me back at the office.

After a full 30 minutes of playing on Facebook and Twitter, my meal finally arrived. I had ordered the sushi bento lunch special, with a salmon roll and five pieces of nigiri. The diner chooses from five simple sushi rolls for this special, but the nigiri is take-it-or-leave-it: one each of tuna, salmon, crab, shrimp and snapper. At $8.95, including the soup or a salad, this is a heck of a deal.

My first bite into the salmon roll prompted one of those omigoshthisisawesome eye-roll-sigh things, where you look around and see if anyone saw you do it. What struck me was the texture of both the salmon and the rice. The salmon was silky and supple; the rice was distinctively fluffy, more tender and gently rolled than you usually get in these parts. Having watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi (which I highly recommend on Netflix), I wondered what special technique they used in cooking it. The sushi was dressed lightly with more of the green onions, which were more palatable here, for some reason.

Shrimp nigiri. This one's for you, K-Shay.

Shrimp nigiri. This one’s for you, K-Shay.

I can’t say I had the same fantasmic experience eating the nigiri, but that has more to do with my lack of experience with some of the choices. I loved the tuna and salmon; the shrimp and snapper, meh. The crab was particularly troublesome because I’m pretty sure it was imitation. Imitation crab is made with wheat. Did you know that?

As not to be rude (and because my lack of experience with seafood was such that I wasn’t 100% sure it was fake), I ate the crab. I went back to work a blotchy hot mess, so I’m pretty sure my inkling was correct.

Overall, I must say that Hanaroo was a win, but don’t go in a hurry, or at least during the lunch rush. A quick review of online, er, reviews show a similar theme. It’s great, but don’t expect to be impressed with the facilities or the speed of service.

Oh, yes, the facilities! Walking up on the outside, one might question whether this is a restaurant or a seedy nightclub. Inside was just okay, not offensive but not sparkling, either.

At least I didn’t see any of the legendary cockroaches. Maybe next time.

Hanaroo Sushi Bar
205 W Capitol Ave
Little Rock, AR 72201
(501) 454-0599

Loblolly Creamery: Spooning at the Green Corner Store

19 Jan
Visitors got to chime in on Loblolly's new flavors in a tasting party today.

Visitors got to chime in on Loblolly’s new flavors in a tasting party today.

I went to a spooning party this afternoon, and my husband wasn’t even there.

To clarify: Loblolly Creamery, which operates out of the Green Corner Store on Main Street in Little Rock, had a Spooning Party today, where visitors got to try several new flavors they’re testing and rate them on qualities such as taste, texture and body.

The fun and funky Loblolly folks just graduated from the Penn State University Ice Cream Short Course, which is apparently a lot more fun than it even sounds, despite this rather dry web page. One of the ideas they learned is how to do a tasting party, so they did just that today.

I took my daughter and her friend, and we came packing with our very own spoons, as encouraged in Loblolly’s ads for the event. We tried dainty little cups of Better than Ever Milk Chocolate, New & Improved Buttermilk, Banoffee (banana with toffee bites), Cherry & Gin Sorbet, Black Sesame Coconut (vegan) and Frappe (a light coffee flavor).

Everything, of course, was fabulous, as I knew it would be. I’d heard quite a bit about Loblolly recently from fellow blogger Michael Roberts (Arkansas Foodies and Eat Arkansas), and I’d had a small bit of their wares over at Argenta Market and at the Green Corner Store during the recent Cornbread Festival. But it was especially nice to be a part of the process, helping them tweak and choose flavors to be sold in the future.

Before we left, the girls got full scoops of the Frappe flavor, and I helped myself to a (gluten free!) pumpkin spice sandwich with some of the New & Improved Buttermilk inside. I described the smooth tanginess of the ice cream to my daughter’s friend as a “slap in yo face!”

The spooning event will continue today until 4 p.m., so if you get a chance, run by. If not, you’re sure to see some of these flavors in the near future churning out of the Loblolly Creamery. (I know, I couldn’t resist…)

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Atlanta/NYC/London’s Joël Antunes to be Next Capital Hotel Executive Chef

13 Dec

Chef Joel Antunes will soon take the reins as Executive Chef at Little Rock’s Capital Hotel.

Note: See previous related post.

It’s now official: The Capital Hotel has identified its new executive chef, Joël Antunes.

Chef Antunes is known stateside for his restaurants JOEL and, in a later incarnation, Joël Brasserie in Atlanta, as well as a later stint in New York City at the Plaza Hotel’s stuffy The Oak Room. (The latter ended badly, but we won’t hold it against him. Stylistic conflicts with hotel management are reported to have been an issue, and New York reviewers are a fussy lot, so we hear.)

Most recently, after The Oak Room, Antunes crossed the pond and headed London’s Brasserie Joël in Waterloo and Kitchen Joël Antunes in the Mayfair area of the city.

Earlier in his career, Antunes led the Ritz Carlton, Buckhead restaurant to a Mobil Five-Star rating. Before that, he earned his first Michelin star at Les Saveurs in London, and his formative experience ranges from the Le Normandie restaurant in Bangkok’s Mandarin Oriental hotel to early tutelage under such heady French chefs as Paul Bocuse.

Chef Antunes (a Basque surname, pronounced an-tu-NESS) hails from France but spent much of his youth in sub-Saharan Africa, where his father worked for Michelin — the tire folks, not the restaurant reviewers, although their provenance is the same. He is known for a gilded French style, rich in flavor and often achingly heavy with artistic adornment, but also often showing influences of Asia and Italy.

While in Atlanta, Antunes won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef in the Southeast region in 2005. He seems to be widely regarded as an excellent chef and visionary restaurateur. How his ornate French style will fit into his predecessor Lee Richardson’s legacy of Arkansas-rooted Southern elegance is yet to be determined.

Here’s hoping that Little Rock and the Capital Hotel are indeed a good match for Chef Antunes. We look forward to trying his wares soon.

Cornbread Fest is Saturday’s Best Bet, Despite Speaker Crumble

2 Nov

Last year, organizers of the first-ever Arkansas Cornbread Festival expected about 800, maybe 1000 folks to show up. They ended up with over 3000 hungry cornbread enthusiasts.

Lesson learned. We Arkansans love us some cornbread!

Tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 3, lovers of the sweet (or not!) southern staple will descend upon South Main Street in Little Rock to enjoy live music, shopping, and of course, cornbread.

The event was created as a way to introduce folks to all the nifty things we already have available on South Main, such as an urban garden, a soda shop, unique shopping, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Plenty of ‘bread and sides will be available for sampling, offered up by professional and amateur competitors. The entries are in the categories of Traditional, Non-Traditional and Sweet.

Alas, just as last year, I had grand plans to enter myself, and just…didn’t. (New job! Cooking gigs! Exhaustion!) But I do plan on going over to try other folks’ stuff. If you’re gluten-free like me, I know of at least one cornbread that will be safe: Dempsey Bakery will be there as a competitor in the Sweet category. And I’ll wager that at least one or two of the Traditional category entries will be all-corn, as well.

The event was originally to include a lecture and book signing by Dr. Jessica Harris, author of several books about African-American cuisine and its fascinating history. But Hurricane Sandy stepped in and changed plans for the New York author. So give Dr. Harris some love and check out her latest book, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, at the Museum Store at Historic Arkansas Museum.

Visit the event website for lists of all the musical acts, cornbread competitors, arts and crafts (and clothing and more) vendors, recipes and all that. See you there!

Event Deets:

Arkansas Cornbread Festival
Saturday, November 3
11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
South Main Street, Downtown Little Rock
Between 13th and 16th Streets

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids day of the event
Discount advance tickets ($7 adults, $3 kids) are available online until 5 p.m. Friday

Main Street Food Truck Festival: The Whole Story

4 Oct

A customer from last year’s Main Street Food Truck Festival hands over his tickets.

Okay, I was in the mood for a snarky post with my earlier letter to the food trucks. I still mean it, though.

The Downtown Little Rock Partnership let me know this morning that they’ve been visiting with the food trucks already on the issue of shorter menus and quicker service.

They tell me they’re also weather-proofing the event as much as possible, given the chance of a few showers and cooler temps. Look for tents and other cover to be available for diners.

This year’s event will boast more trucks and more activities, which I was going to list in a later post, but may as well do here:

  •  39 Etsy vendors will offer handmade crafts for sale. They have been moved to the old Downtown Mall at Capitol and Main to avoid any potential weather.
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  • Over 30 food vendors are scheduled to participate, including many new ones (asterisk indicates 2011 participants): Arkansas Pineapple Whip (Conway), Aunt Sissy’s (Enola), Bryant’s BBQ & Catering, Clyde and Kiddo’s* (Alexander), Eat My Catfish (Benton), Haute Wheels (Mabelvale), Haygood BBQ, Hot Dog Mike*, Jackie’s Mobile Café, Juicy Bottoms Shaved Ice (Searcy), King Blvd*, Kristina’s Hawaiian Ice* (Maumelle), Kyler Arkansas Dogs, Le Pops*, Lewis & Edna Mobile Grill, Luncheria Mexicana Alicia*, Meyer Dogs, Philly’s (North Little Rock), Red River Catering (Judsonia), Repicci’s Italian Ice, Snow Blizzard (Hot Springs), Taqueria Jalisco San Juan, The Sugar Shack Sweets & Treats, The Banana Leaf*, The Southern Gourmasian,Willy Dog USA and Wishbone’s*.
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  • Heifer International, one of the event sponsors, will host a children’s plaza with games and activities.
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  • This year’s event will include several beer gardens, live music and more.

You will have to purchase tickets to buy food again this year. I don’t even remember doing this last year, but I guess I did. I’ve received some feedback that folks didn’t like waiting in line to buy tickets, then waiting again to buy food.

I’ve heard that the use of tickets was a point of contention among the trucks during planning this year, with worries about repayment as well as just hacking off the customers. But it seems the ticket system won out again, which I suppose is fine with me if things move quickly.

All being said, I was proud of the Little Rock food scene last year as I walked around. All these kinks can be easily worked out, which is why I wrote the earlier post. I hope you’ll support the food trucks this Saturday, bringing an umbrella, a good appetite, and sturdy shoes. Just in case.

Photos from last year’s event:

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To the Food Trucks this Saturday: Get in Gear

4 Oct

Let’s not let this happen again. (From the Main Street Food Truck Festival 2011.)

Dear Food Trucks of Little Rock:

Hey, how’s it going? I know you’re busy getting ready for Saturday’s big event, the Main Street Food Truck Festival. Just hear me out for a minute or two. It’ll be worth it.

I’m so glad for you that this event was successful last year. The Downtown Little Rock Partnership won on their bet to start this event in what has been a hit-and-miss part of town, and folks came out in droves. Remember? I sure do.

So do all the other people who waited in long lines, often an hour or more, to get the dish of their choosing. In fact, many of them are just kind of meh about attending this year. Even my blogger friends who focus on food trucks are kind of ambivalent. And although the weather is supposed to be a little drizzly and cool, that’s not the real reason. Standing on your feet that long is hard to forget.

But you can redeem yourself this year. You kinda have to. If you don’t, this uber sexy, trendy event may languish in the lengthening shadows of waiting customers.

I have some thoughts.

  1. Simplify your menu. If you haven’t already, cut your eight-board menu down to two or three things that say who you are. Pick things that hold well and prep easily. Just for one day. You can do it.
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  2. Prep ahead of time. It seemed last year that you were still chopping and mixing when you should have been assembling and shoveling out the window. See #1, and prep accordingly. If you’re not sure how to hold hot and cold items, ask your food supplier or your friends in the brick-and-mortar restaurants.
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  3. Work the crowd. Having the inaugural event under your collective belts, you know there’s going to be a big crowd. Use this to your advantage. Have someone floating in front of your truck to help take orders, and make it someone with some personality. Create some brand evangelists for you while they wait. Hand out coupons. Throw confetti. (Well, you might want to check with the organizers on that one.) Do what it takes to keep the line moving and keep people happy.
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  4. Communicate. If there’s a problem, let us know. Apologize. Make jokes. Give coupons or even refunds if necessary. But most likely, it won’t be. So long as you acknowledge our effort to get your food, we’ll be more likely to come back for more in the future. And on the positive side, ask us how the food is. I’m pretty sure it’s fabulous, and it’ll make us both feel good to say and hear it.

I’ll be there Saturday, money in hand. I’ll stand in a line or two and see how it goes. I hope a lot of other people do, too.

Whether or not I’ll do it again next year will be up to you.

Sincerely,

Christie

P.S. I know not all of you are to blame. Take notes from the trucks with quick lines and fat pockets. You know the ones.

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Event Deets:

Main Street Food Truck Festival
Main Street, Downtown Little Rock, between Third & Ninth Streets
Saturday, October 6, 2012
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Presented by the Downtown Little Rock Partnership
501-375-0121
www.downtownlr.com.

Giveaway: Two Tickets to this Friday’s Wildwood Wine and Food Festival

11 Sep

Manager Greg Robinson and Executive Chef James Hale from Acadia at the Wildwood Wine and Food Festival in 2010. Acadia will be among the participating restaurants again this year.

Note: The contest is over! Congrats to Sam L. See you at the event on Friday!

This Friday is one of my favorite foodie events of the year, the Wildwood Wine and Food Festival held at the Wildwood Park for the Arts in Little Rock.

I first experienced the event two years ago as a culinary student, as Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School had a table to present tasty wares created by students. This was one of the first times I was able to directly have a hand in creating good food, then handing it directly to the people who were going to (hopefully) enjoy it. It was extremely gratifying and was probably a defining moment in my passion to make people happy through food.

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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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