Chefs in the Garden fosters friendship among cooks

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 150 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — The upcoming Chefs in the Garden event is named aptly enough. But it could easily be called Family of Chefs in the Garden.

One of the larger fundraisers for the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks is held on the garden grounds and usually under picture-perfect weather conditions. This year’s party will be 6-8:30 p.m. Sept 13. Participating chefs have been told to prepare for a crowd of 600.

The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, in its fifth year of operation, has hosted more than 200,000 people for educational programs, events, tours, concerts and weddings. Botanical Garden board president Walt Eilers has said the garden’s economic impact on the area has been estimated at $3.1 million annually. By the year’s end, some 10,000 elementary students will have visited the grounds.

Maudie Schmitt, whom everybody knows as the owner of Cafe Rue Orleans on College Avenue in Fayetteville, is the honorary chairman for this, the fifth consecutive Chefs in the Garden. Her title means she had nothing to do with any organization or planning of the event — ticketing, soliciting silent auction items or begging for sponsorships. But her “ask” seldom goes unanswered, and she’s again helped persuade some of the most talented chefs in town to participate.

“I guess people can’t say no to me,” Schmitt said.

Among them is Steven Brooks, executive chef of the Springdale Country Club, owner and chef Jerrmy Gawthrop of Greenhouse Grille and Bill Lyle, the executive chef at Ella’s Restaurant at the Inn at Carnall Hall.

These three and others in the local tight-knit culinary community are veterans — and comrades — never passing up an opportunity to help the other out, whether its lending equipment or utensils or sharing recipes.

One might say they’d give each other the chef’s coat off their back.

“We all get along,” Schmitt says. “I don’t find a stiff competition between us. There’s no ‘I’m not going to share my secret with you” kind of thing.”

Other participating chefs represent Chartwell’s, Fayetteville Country Club, Kruton’s Catering, Little Bread Co., Starbuck’s, Table Mesa Bistro, Vetro 1925 and Wasabi. (Some are providing just breads or desserts.)

Schmitt, one of a few who have worked the event since its inception, says Chefs in the Garden is the chefs’ chance to show off and to play. She says: “It gives us an opportunity as chefs to walk around and taste each other’s food.”

And the digs are nice.
“I do it because it’s in a garden,” said Lyle, the chef at Ella’s. “And it’s rare to see customers face to face. It’s the best kind of advertising we can do.”

The event struggled the first two years, Schmitt said. Without help from food sponsors, the out-of-pocket expense to restaurants was too much, up to $1,000, she said. 

“Fayetteville taps you all the time. This is a philanthropic community so someone is always calling on you to provide food for an event,” she said.

Lyle agreed.

“We are approached by so many events. We have to pick and chose our favorites. ‘Chefs’ is one of the most effective ones,” he said.

Then, organizers began shopping for food vendors to assist with the cost for chefs. Cargill is providing protein (meats) for the chefs, Glazer’s is helping with alcoholic beverages (including ingredients for a signature drink) and Filippo Berio Olive Oil Co. is providing olive oil.

“It’s not hard to come up with dishes that use those products, Schmitt said.

Lyle is planning to turn 60 pounds of flank steak into sliders that he’ll serve with sweet potato chips.

But instead of counting calories or carbs, guests are encouraged to count out their dollars for the garden’s coffers.