#5 Epicurean Expansions

#5 Epicurean Expansions

Culinary scene collaborates with community

Special to the Free Weekly/J.T. WAMPLER Chef Chrissy Sanderson (left) of Fayetteville’s Mockingbird Kitchen and chef Joshua Walters of Bentonville’s MOD Restaurant & Social work on their inning entry Saturday August 26, 2017 during the Roots Festival Chef Cookoff 2017 at the Fayetteville Farmers Market. Competitors were given $50 and one hour to shop for all of their ingredients at the market. They then had less than a hour to prepare dishes for six judges. To see a gallery of images from the competition go here.

Be It Resolved

The culinary scene in Northwest Arkansas has been steadily on the rise in prestige, offerings and community engagement for some time. Case Dighero, founder of new consulting firm Edible Culture and former director of culinary programming and events at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, offers the explanation: “Food is a cultural event. People think about food in a way today that in the past they’ve thought about theater or film or music.”

The Past

Northwest Arkansas is home to a growing number of award-winning chefs, nationally recognized restaurants and a hugely successful festival with equal parts music and food. A strong tradition of locally sourced ingredients, endorsing our farm culture and an open mindedness toward innovative dining are evidenced by the variety and availability of locally grown food stuffs and unique restaurants thriving here, as well as the area’s prosperous farmers’ markets — Fayetteville’s having been ranked among the top large markets in the country.

The Present

This year’s installment of the Roots Festival beautifully demonstrated the efforts of those in the culinary scene to break down any perceived barriers and involve the whole of the region’s food system in the culinary conversation.

“They’re not only bringing attention to what we have, but they’re also bringing absolute culinary rock stars from around the country to experience what we have. From its very genesis, the Fayetteville Roots Festival was very much about building capacity in the local scene,” says Daniel Hintz, founder and CEO of The Velocity Group, an urban planning and experience design firm.

The big picture element Roots brings to the table, Hintz says, is its celebration of what goes on behind the scenes to create a robust food economy. In bringing attention to what is actually happening — from food access to local farmers to aggregation and distribution — and activating and celebrating the food system of Northwest Arkansas, not only do locals have a better appreciation and support for the food culture happening around them, but others from outside the region are drawn to become invested, making Northwest Arkansas competitive.

“My underlying intent is to nurture the food scene here and to grow some more foodies,” says Jerrmy Gawthrop, chef and owner of Greenhouse Grille and one of the brains behind Roots Fest. “That’s what is sustainable for all us restaurateurs — we need more people around here that want to eat good food and want to learn and aren’t afraid to try” something out of the ordinary.

To that end, the festival’s eighth year expanded free community programming to Bentonville and welcomed the opportunity for collaboration with the Brightwater culinary institute — itself another indication of the area’s burgeoning food culture. The institute at the new 8th Street Market opened its doors to all festivalgoers while celebrity and local chefs (no less celebrity to our community) took over the facilities teaching masterclasses, collaborating and engaging the student chefs and guests in an impromptu communal-style barbecue.

The other educational components of the festival came with the return of the Dig In Food & Farming Workshops; the popular Taste and Talk series of panel discussions highlighting chefs, farmers, brewers and other food experts; and the premiere of the Wendell Berry documentary “Look and See.” The film — which considers the shifting values of rural America in the era of industrialized agriculture — was introduced by actor/musician/comedian Nick Offerman of NBC’s “Parks & Recreation” fame, serving as yet another example of the festival’s growth and position as a vehicle for change and increasing awareness.

The Future

Stepping away from his full time position with Crystal Bridges, Dighero announced this month the launch of his new consulting firm Edible Culture, coming in January. Also launched this year with plans for expansion is what Hintz calls a “culinary ambassador program” between the Northwest Arkansas culinary scene and outside communities. Ahead of the Roots Festival, Hintz traveled to Wisconsin with three area chefs and a Brightwater student to the restaurant of featured Roots guest chef Justin Carlisle for a “cultural and expertise exchange.” The opportunity for the local chefs to experience another city’s culinary scene and implement what they learned back at home is expanding and capitalizing on the system Roots already had established, Hintz says.

— Jocelyn Murphy


Categories: Food