There was something in the air at The Amp in Rogers on Thursday (June 25), and it smelled delicious. The first annual Northwest Arkansas Food Festival kicked off with 1,000 guests sampling dishes and drinks from more than 35 area restaurants and businesses.
The festival is a new addition to the events surrounding the week of the annual Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship LPGA golf tournament and widens the audience for the LPGA, Harry Hardy, tournament director, said.
“With the success of the LPGA event, we are always looking for ways to expand and ways to attract new people to our event,” Hardy said. He added that, with the recent addition of multiple new restaurants and bars in the area, the time was right for a culinary festival.
“We talked to our sponsors … to see if there was an appetite for a food event and there was a unanimous thought that this type of event would be well received here,” Hardy said. “When we launched it, the response from the restaurants and also the ticket buyers has really backed up the research.”
That was evident by the fact that tickets for the event, ranging in price from $30 per person to $50 per couple, sold out four to five weeks early, Hardy said. Organizers could have sold more tickets, but they said they wanted to keep the number of attendees relatively small in order to keep the focus on executing the event to a high level and giving guests a great experience.
On Thursday night, guests strolled from tent to tent at The Amp, tasting dishes that included roasted short rib, teriyaki chicken kabobs, seafood stuffed pork tenderloin, buffalo cauliflower, chicken wings, pollo sampler, ceviche, braised pork, polenta Contadina, Hawaiian pizza, mini cupcakes, petit fours, flavored iced coffee and pepper cherry chocolate shakes.
“The idea is to come away sampling or experiencing a food experience like no other in this market,” Hardy said. “People can try these high end restaurants and try these dishes that they design especially for the evening and come away with an unbelievable food experience.”
Restaurants participating in the event included Theo’s, Fish City Grill, Mojitos, Havana Tropical Grill, Fratelli’s Wood-Fired Pizza, The Hive, Big Rub Barbecue, Tusk & Trotter, River Grille, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Houlihan’s, Vetro 1925, Roma Italian and Wasabi, among others.
Celebrity chef Carla Hall, co-host of ABC Daytime’s lifestyle series, The Chew, and Mario Valdivino, corporate executive chef and director of culinary innovations at Tyson Foods, Inc., co-hosted the evening with cooking demonstrations and interaction with the crowd. Valdovino said he was excited to see so many people coming together for the festival to “celebrate the passion” of the region’s food. He and Hall agreed that they enjoyed encouraging people to cook and enjoy good food.
“We’re excited to have a platform where your inner chef comes out,” Valdovino said.
In addition to celebrating the culinary scene and cooking in NWA, the event also promoted awareness and funding for the NWA Food Bank. A $50,000 check, funded by proceeds from the event, and a food donation from Kraft Foods were presented to the Food Bank before the event began on Thursday night.
Walmart, Tyson and Kraft Foods were the main sponsors for the festival.