Crystal Bridges hosts lunch for National Culinary Foundation and local chefs

story and photos by Stephen Carter, special to The City Wire

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Wednesday (Jan. 15) hosted Kris Moon, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the James Beard Foundation in New York, to attend a lunch highlighting regional cuisine. Moon was the impetus behind bringing a group of four Bentonville chefs, each present at the lunch, to the Beard House in New York recently.

The Bentonville chefs include Rob Nelson, executive chef at Tusk and Trotter, Case Dighero, culinary director of Eleven at Crystal Bridges, Matt McClure, executive chef at the Hive at 21c Museum Hotel, and Tammy Varney, master pastry chef at Meridienne Dessert Salon.

Bill Lyle, the newly appointed chef at Eleven Restaurant at Crystal Bridges, prepared a selection of dishes highlighting High South cuisine.

“High South is the backbone of American cuisine. It offers variety in a duration of growing periods so I get to use more locally grown and harvested products. I like to fuse it with a variety of techniques. Here at the museum, I get to pair it with the art,” Lyle said.

After the meal, Moon discussed trends in regional food culture compared to what he sees nationally.

“The fact that chefs here are collaborating to support the development of a Northwest Arkansas regional food movement is really encouraging. It's great to see that there's a group here that understands the power of food as an economic driver and cultural influence,” said Moon. “The relationship we have with downtown Bentonville, we don't have with anyone else,” he added.

On Nov. 7, 2013, the four Bentonville chefs showcased northwest Arkansas’s culinary offerings during an event held at the historic James Beard House in New York. The chefs were invited to perform after a consortium from the James Beard Foundation visited Bentonville.

“I think it had a profound effect on all of us,” said Dighero. “For me, it was another layer in giving us credence in what we do,” he added.

“It puts us on a national platform to be able to tell the story of food in northwest Arkansas,” said Matt McClure, executive chef at The Hive at 21c Museum and Hotel. “It gives us more credibility with our restaurant guests.”

“Moon started some collaborative relationships with Bentonville early on, and he's been able to give us great advice as to elements that will help our culinary scene. He was so impressed from the onset with the regional offerings we have here, how much great food that's available that is grown within our region, and how that's being worked in to the local restaurants,” said Diane Carroll, media relations manager at Crystal Bridges. “We have such a supportive community base with which to work.”

“The Walton family and Downtown Bentonville Incorporated have been a big driving force behind a renaissance that's going on in Bentonville,” noted Rob Nelson, Executive Chef and Owner of Tusk and Trotter.

The James Beard Foundation is a New York City based non-profit organization whose mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor America's diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire.

The non-profit is exploring the possibility of hosting a Beard Foundation event in Bentonville in the near future.