BITE NW Arkansas highlights Northwest Arkansas’ growing culinary scene

by Nancy Peevy ( 813 views 

Guests tasted, sampled and sipped some of the best food and beverages Northwest Arkansas has to offer at the third annual BITE NW Arkansas (formerly Taste of Northwest Arkansas) on Thursday (June 22).

BITE NW Arkansas, a two-day food festival that “celebrates the culinary spirit of our community,” is part of the annual Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship LPGA golf tournament week.

On Thursday night, 3,000 attendees paid $30 each to sample food and drink prepared by more than 40 restaurants and chefs throughout the area. At the second event on Friday night (June 23), guests enjoyed signature burgers from local restaurants and drank local beer and other libations. Both nights were sold out.

This year the event moved from the Walmart AMP in Rogers to the new 8th Street Market in Bentonville, home to Brightwater: A Center of the Study of Food. Major sponsors of the event were Walmart, Tyson Foods and General Mills.

“With everything happening in NWA, we looked at different options and especially 8th Street Market. … (The move) is enabling us to grow and be a part of everything that’s happening in downtown Bentonville – like the growth of the culinary scene and the buzz around that,” Harry Hardy, event director said.

Chef Justus Moll, with the River Grille Steakhouse in Rogers, participated in the event for the third year in a row, and said BITE NW Arkansas is a way to shine a spotlight on food establishments in the region.

“It’s just a great opportunity for all the restaurants … to show how great the culinary scene is now and that it is recognized nationwide,” Moll said. “The restaurant scene in NWA is booming. It’s big and it’s not going to slow down any time soon.”

The Chefs Table Experience, a new event for BITE NW Arkansas, offered guests an intimate cooking demonstration and a sample of the food prepared. Tyson corporate executive chef, Mario Valdovino, (center right) and chef William McCormick (center left) cook for the group.

Hardy said the 8th Street Market facility is made to host food events, with five kitchens onsite; and so organizers were able to add something new for attendees.

The “Chefs Table Experience” offered guests “intimate” cooking demonstrations with five local and nationally known chefs in a small auditorium at the facility. Ticket buyers were given the option to attend, and the opt-ins were gone within two hours of sending the email, Hardy said.

The demonstrations, curated in partnership with the James Beard Foundation Impact Programs team, featured chef Dean Fearing, known as the “Father of Southwestern Cuisine,” creator of Fearing’s Restaurant and author of the Texas Food Bible; chef Jamilka Borges, executive chef at Spoon in Pittsburgh, Penn.; chef Mario Valdovino, corporate executive chef and director of culinary innovations at Tyson Foods; chef Matthew McClure, executive chef at The Hive; and chef Rob Nelson, executive chef at Tusk & Trotter.

At the end of the 15-minute demonstrations attendees sampled the dishes the chefs prepared. Hardy said he thought guests would experience something new as a result of BITE NW Arkansas.

Thursday night’s BITE NW Arkansas, held at the new 8th Street Market in Bentonville, was attended by a record-setting crowd of 3,000.

“We hope they come away being introduced to an incredible new venue that we have here in NWA,” Hardy said. “Our goal hasn’t changed. We still hang off the word ‘discover.’ So our goal in uniting the culinary community is that people will discover some new culinary restaurants and also new products that they haven’t seen before.”

During the evening guests strolled from tent to tent, listening to music provided by local Fayetteville band, Nature and Madness, and sampling offerings such as smoked salmon, roe and summer vegetables prepared by 28 Springs Restaurant; sweet corn succotash by Oven & Tap; grilled peaches with aromatic field peas and herbed yogurt by Fiamma Ristorante; assorted cake bites by Cake Occasion; BLT&C sliders by Foster’s Pint & Plate; sliced tenderloin by Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse; wahoo and wild shrimp and Tuscan smoked salmon crostini by Blue Fresh Fish; grilled Thai chicken skewers by Bordino’s; and strip steak with blistered tomato, carrot puree and asparagus tip by Big Sexy Food.

Drinks offered included coffee, signature cocktails, wines and other spirits from Kennedy Coffee, Core Brewing Co., Pernod Ricard USA, Onyx Coffee Lab, Post Winery and Walmart Mixology Tasting.

“Our goal is providing area residents with world-class events, and we hope that this will be one of those that people enjoy this year and for years to come,” Hardy said.