Food Festival highlights Northwest Arkansas’ culinary scene, part of LPGA event

by Nancy Peevy ([email protected]) 204 views 

Fred’s Hickory Inn served pulled pork sliders with apple slaw to guests.

Guests came hungry and left full at the second annual Taste of Northwest Arkansas on Thursday (June 23) at the Walmart AMP in Rogers. Two thousand attendees paid $30 each to sink their teeth into a variety of cuisine and beverages from 56 area food and drink establishments.

The Taste of Northwest Arkansas is part of a two-night event, called BITE NW Arkansas, held during the annual Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship LPGA golf tournament. The two-part event “celebrates the region’s best cuisines, ingredients, restaurants and chefs,” according to the LPGA website.

The NW Arkansas Beer and Burger Fest is the name of the second night’s event and hosted approximately 45 burger and drinking establishments at the Walmart AMP on Friday (June 24). Harry Hardy, tournament director, said the two-night event was rebranded this year to use the “BITE NW Arkansas” name as an umbrella that will allow organizers to add other food initiatives to the LPGA week in the future.

“Traditionally with nationally recognized food festivals, there’s a huge amount of ancillary events happening all over the region where the food festival is taking place,” Hardy said. “So I think the food festival will continue to grow and shine a spotlight on the best restaurants that Northwest Arkansas has; and will continue to involve all the different downtowns and cities that make up Northwest Arkansas.”

A sold-out crowd of 2,000 enjoyed the evening at The Taste of Northwest Arkansas.
A sold-out crowd of 2,000 enjoyed the evening at The Taste of Northwest Arkansas.

Hardy said this year’s event included eating establishments and vendors from Rogers, Bentonville, Springdale, Fayetteville and Siloam Springs and he hopes to include even more restaurants from more cities in coming years.

“Our goal when we created this was to showcase the entire region. That’s why the LPGA event is here and why our sponsors, especially Walmart, support the event,” Hardy said. “One of the reasons is to shine a spotlight on what we have here and why it’s such a great place to live and work.”

Hardy said he hoped that during the evening guests would experience the event’s tagline – “Taste, Sip, Sample, Discover,” and that they would leave having discovered something new – whether that was a new chef, a new restaurant, a new cooking technique, a new ingredient or a new skill.

“We want them to comment, ‘I can’t believe I discovered that here in Northwest Arkansas,’” Hardy said.

In addition to the guest experience, organizers wanted the decision to participate in the event to be easy for area restaurants. Therefore, each restaurant received a stipend to cover their ingredients for the night and was offered donated proteins from Tyson Foods to use in the dish they prepared. Hardy said restaurant owners also are drawn to participate in the event because of the exposure their business receives.

Matthew McClure, executive chef of The Hive, Lindsay Ortega, Zane Dearin, Trevor Meredity, Beth Waller, Matthew McClure and Erin Falkenstein served smoked pork bologna sandwiches to guests.
Matthew McClure, executive chef of The Hive, Lindsay Ortega, Zane Dearin, Trevor Meredity, Beth Waller, Matthew McClure and Erin Falkenstein served smoked pork bologna sandwiches to guests.

“You have 2,000 people in there – a captive audience for the restaurant to tell their story to,” Hardy said.

Matt McClure, executive chef at The Hive, said he expects a long-term impact from the event as people sampled his food during the festival and then will come try his restaurant. He said that it is one way to build his regular clientele.

“I think this is one of the premier culinary events in Northwest Arkansas,” McClure said. “I can’t imagine us not being a part of something like this.”

Other establishments participating in the evening included: The River Grille, Fred’s Hickory Inn, Post Winery, Apple Blossom Brewing Company, Big Sexy Food, Boneheads, Big Rub, Bordinos, Embassy Suites, Cedar Creek Bistro, Con Quesos, Core Brewing Company, Foster’s Pint & Plate, Fratelli’s Pizzeria, Havana Tropical Grille, Hello Cocoa, Houlihan’s, IDK? Café, Kennedy Coffee, Kirby’s Kupcakes, KYYA Chocolate, MOD, Mojitos, Onyx Coffee Lab, Pedal Pops, and Pinnacle Bar & Grille.

Chef Mario Valdovino, Tyson Foods corporate executive chef and director of culinary innovations; Chef Kathleen Blake from The Rusty Spoon Restaurant in Orlando, Fla.; Adam Danforth, meat specialist; and Chef Matthew McClure, executive chef at The Hive in Bentonville, gave different types of cooking demonstrations from the main stage at the AMP during the event.

Foster's Pint and Plate offered tomato sorbet with confit heirloom tomatoes.
Foster’s Pint and Plate offered tomato sorbet with confit heirloom tomatoes.

Also, during the evening, Hardy presented a $25,000 donation to president/CEO Ken Eikenberry of  the NWA Food Bank.

Hardy said that using the food festival to support the NWA Food Bank was a natural fit.

“While we want to showcase the best food and drinks in NWA, we also want to raise awareness that there are those a little less fortunate than ourselves,” Hardy said.