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Cr(EAT)e Food Blog: The Bentonville Food Scene Takes a Bite Out of the Big Apple

Four Arkansas Chefs at the Beard House. From left

Beard House PlaqueKABOOM!  The exciting Bentonville food movement continues to impress the world at large; a core restaurant group comprised of Eleven at Crystal Bridges, The Hive at 21c, Tusk and Trotter, and Meridienne Dessert Salon is garnering national attention for their dynamic chefs, foodstuffs, and styles merely broaching the proverbial tip of the deep, delicious iceberg floating quietly amidst the hills of the Ozarks.  Nothing could boast the power of the Bentonville food scene more than a recent appearance of the aforementioned restaurants at the James Beard House in New York City for a night of high Southern hospitality and unforgettable nosh.

Food one

Dighero’s Rye Whiskey-Glazed Pork Belly with Arkansas Black Apple Slaw and Fresh Fig Compote.

I, along with Chef Rob Nelson (Tusk and Trotter), Chef Matthew McClure (The Hive), and Tammy Varney (Meridienne) plus ring-leader and organizer Daniel Hintz (formerly with Downtown Bentonville Incorporated), set out for our own gastronomic food adventure anchored with our hosting of a special, multi-course tasting menu at the Beard House on November 7th.  The menu was quite literally a taste of home, teeming with Mason Creek pork belly, field peas, Arkansas black apples, locally raised chicken, something called “lamb ham,” and a plethora of stories to boot.  My contributions included Pork Rillettes with Pickled Radishes; Field Pea, Swiss Chard, and Avocado Soup; and Rye Whiskey-Glazed Pork Belly with Arkansas Black Apple Slaw and Fresh Fig Compote.

Four Arkansas Chefs at the Beard House. From left

Four Arkansas Chefs at the Beard House. From left: Case Dighero (Eleven), Chef Matthew McClure (The Hive), Chef Rob Nelson (Tusk and Trotter), and Tammy Varney (Meridienne)

The four chefs worked collaboratively on a menu that was equal parts Arkansas, Ozark sophistication, and edible storytelling; yielding a culinary jam session worthy of a performance at one of the premiere food venues of all time.  Knives brandished, ovens pulsing, plates clattering…ultimately, we churned out something spectacular for a guest list that included local fans, national press, and gourmands from up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Case Dighero and

Case Dighero and Chef Daniel Boulud

A special lagniappe occurred when Chef Daniel Boulud, one of my all-time food heroes, made an impromptu visit to the kitchen while promoting a book and shared a tug of moonshine and a bite of an Arkansas black apple with the four of us.  We all giggled like school girls at the thought of meeting such an influential figure, but each of us were ultimately humbled by Chef Daniel’s gracious, accessible, and utterly generous persona.  Edible Culture abounds not only in Eleven, Tusk and Trotter, The Hive, and Meridienne, but also in the Big Apple thanks to a talented team of chefs with a passion for high south cuisine…cheers!

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