Chefs in the Gardens highlights gourmet food in a beautiful setting

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 178 views 

Sounds of conversation, laughter and soft music filled the air as the aroma of flowers and gourmet food pleased the senses at Chefs in the Garden on Tuesday evening (Sept. 9) at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks in Fayetteville.

Local chefs from 14 restaurants served food under square white tents surrounding the green lawn of the gardens. Attendees strolled from tent to tent trying samples of such food as shrimp and grits from Café Rue Orleans; pistachio, almond and Godiva cup cake bites from the Fayetteville Country Club and shrimp, avocado and bacon bites from The Hive @ 21c Hotel. Purple and green cocktail tables scattered across the middle of the lawn allowed them to enjoy their food in a relaxed atmosphere.

The abundance of savory food and the setting of lush greenery and flowers in the gardens were appropriate considering the theme of the evening, ‘Richness of the Harvest Season.’

More than 400 people paid $50 to attend the annual fundraiser for the Botanical Gardens. For their admission price, they sampled food from the restaurants, and enjoyed walking through the twelve-themed gardens and Arkansas’ only butterfly house, housed in the gardens.

Chef Steven Brooks, of Tankersly Food Service, was the honorary chair of the event. He has been involved with Chefs in the Garden ever since the event began 5 years ago. 

Liz Esch, director of special events for the Botanical Gardens, said choosing Chef Brooks to be the honorary chair was an easy decision.

“He has been a big supporter of the garden and he is a great chef and has made a good reputation for himself,” she said.

Brooks said he enjoys the event and has camaraderie with the other chefs who participate in Chefs in the Garden. He said that, as he gets to know them, he is able to highlight them on his cooking show.

Participating chefs also benefit in other ways from the event.

“They get advertising for their business,” Esch said. “It’s a perfect fit with the garden – growing vegetables and cooking.”

She said that the chefs also enjoy competing in the ‘Best Chef’ contest, a competition where attendees place $1 in the jar at the station of the chef they think has the best food. The chef with the most money in their jar wins. This year’s winner was Chef Jennifer Keaton-Madewell of Kruton Catering. Second place went to Owner/Chef Maudie Schmitt of Café Rue Orleans, with Chef Justus Moll of River Grille Steak House taking third place.

Chefs from Early Bird Catering, Fayetteville Country Club, Fresco Café & Pub, GC Catering, Greenhouse Grille, Houlihan’s, Kennedy Coffee Roasting Company, The Hive @ 21c Hotel, Vetro 1925 and Yarnell’s Ice Cream also participated in the event.

“The food this year was the best we’ve ever had at Chefs in the Garden,” Esch said.  “Nobody cooked the same thing and we had a wide variety.”

Last year, $27,000 was raised during the event and the staff felt sure they would surpass that number this year, Esch said. The money raised Tuesday evening will go mainly for educational programs, and some will be used for the operations of the gardens. The main goal of the Gardens is education, Esch said. She said last year 14,000 school children attended educational programs at the gardens like butterfly day, earth day and nature classes.

Other programs offered focus on gardening in the Ozarks, teach about appropriate planting for our region, teach garden art and also teach sustainability, Esch said.  The gardens are also the site of entertaining concerts and events and can host weddings, receptions and corporate events.

Esch said more than 84,000 people visit the Gardens each year and the garden’s economic impact on Northwest Arkansas is estimated at $3 million per year.

According to their website, the mission of the Botanical Gardens is “showcasing the natural beauty of the Ozarks, educating for a sustainable future and gathering the community for celebration and entertainment.”