Culinary programs at Crystal Bridges have become well-loved, special evenings for guests. Each unique event offers folks an opportunity to indulge in their foodie side with delicious bites and tasty drinks while engaging in conversations about art and culture with special guests and, the emcee who leads it all, Edible Culture’s Case Dighero.
DISH is a unique, cultural experience that helps guests feel connected to the area and the women influencing its culture. Drinks and food are passed out in courses at long, family-style tables as Dighero sits in the center interviewing an influential woman from the Northwest Arkansas community.
“We started the program in May 2016 as a way to provide guests with a way to enjoy a more laidback culinary event,” said Dighero. “It took a few months of trial and error to get the cadence and format correct, but I’m pleased with the way it’s developed and evolved over time.”
Dighero begins each season with a call on social media, asking folks for recommendations of women to feature at DISH. “The response is overwhelming,” he says.
Once the guests are decided, Dighero creates a customized questionnaire for each woman of honor to fill out in advance of the program. Questionnaires are based on the individual’s background, and the responses will guide every decision made for the evening.
Once returned to Dighero, he passes the questionnaire off to Crystal Bridges Executive Banquet Chef Melody Lane, who creates a catered menu for the evening based on the answers. This makes each DISH event unique and specific to the featured guest.
“The concept of DISH, or rather, featuring women, came straight from the mind of Chef Melody Lane,” said Dighero. “Once we receive the questionnaire, we review the responses together and design the menu, décor, and even a musical playlist. Mel always has final say on the menu, though. She knows her kitchen and I know she will always produce a beautiful, edible narrative.”
The evenings begin with a ritual of rosewater handwashing as guests walk in the door, making everyone’s hands feel soft and smooth. “The ritual started with Andrea Allen of Onyx Coffee Lab, whom we featured during the second year of DISH,” said Dighero. “She wanted to create a special welcoming bond for the audience as they entered, something she picked up while traveling abroad. I loved the guest reaction it caused and decided to keep it as a permanent part of the program.”
Last August, Paula Jo Chitty Henry, co-founder of Crepes Paulette in Bentonville, was the featured guest at DISH. Following the tradition, she hand-washed guests with rosewater, and as people took their seats, Dighero interviewed her about her life, her family, her career in food, and her former life as an actress, making for an amusing moment as the group watched an old reel of commercials and shorts she starred in from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
For this particular evening, the menu was an exquisite array of vegetarian dishes that would make anyone’s mouth water. As guests looked for their seats at the long, family-style tables, they were greeted with plates of gourmet cheese, grapes, and bottles of wine. The main course was a mushroom stroganoff consisting of five different kinds of mushrooms cooked together, served on a bed of stroganoff sauce with sides of creamy mashed potatoes and fresh greens. Dessert was a chocolate mousse with a buckwheat cinnamon star wafer. Each course signified a special tie to Henry.
Other guests of honor have included Hannah Withers (restauranteur behind Leverett Lounge and Maxine’s Tap Room), Denise Garner (Arkansas House Representative), Kassie Misiewicz (founder of Trike Theatre), and Allison Glenn (Crystal Bridges associate curator of contemporary art), among others.
“I hope guests walk away from DISH with a sense of emotion, experience, and connectedness,” said Dighero. “Some of the stories that are told are deeply personal…it’s certainly not unheard of a DISH guest to actually break down, cry on stage when they’re recounting an important moment in their life…myself included. Those are the moments I adore, because that moment of truth connects us all, and then we can all eat together.”
DISH is sponsored by Arvest Bank, Cindy Flynt Walters and Betty Flynt, Gelmart International, inVeritas, Wade and Kelly Jones, and Onyx Coffee Lab.