It’s probably safe to say that the height of popularity for televised cooking competitions has long since passed. There were occasional moments of TV greatness, however, occasionally imbedded within the rage-driven, furrowed brow fits of Gordon Ramsay, the pompous showmanship of the chili-pepper slinging Bobby Flay, or the occasional sharp-tongued, straight shooting antics of Tom Colicchio. But over the years, while the cooking remains (at times) top-notch, the formula has become a little tiresome. However, getting a slice of a culinary competition firsthand, with local celebrity chefs is an entirely different matter—and Arkansans have an opportunity to be a part of one such event at the upcoming Governor’s Culinary Challenge.
The Governor’s Culinary Challenge is a part of the American Culinary Federation’s Central Regional Conference. It will be held at the Capital Hotel in downtown Little Rock on Monday, April 29th from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. The event will place ten highly acclaimed Arkansas chefs head-to-head in an event to showcase each’s unique talents and abilities. And guests have the opportunity to be a part of the tasting—helping determine who’s got the winning formula, and who should head back to the cutting board. Admittedly, this “challenge” will be more of a tasting than a knuckle-grinding, hair-singeing, all-out brawl—you can probably view this as more of a “gentleman’s competition”—but all the same, you’ll have the chance to sample a wide assortment of fabulous food while chatting up some of the top dogs in the Arkansas culinary world.
So, who’s going to be a part of this challenge? I’ll tell you who. The freaking dream team of central Arkansas chefs, that’s who.
More specifically—Joel Antunes, newcomer and recently appointed exec-chef at Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel; he’ll be dragging along his Beard Awards and Michelin stars, just to flash around in everyone’s faces—a little intimidation goes a long way. Peter Brave, a man who needs no introduction in the Central Arkansas dining scene, perennial recipient of “best chef” awards year after year, and captain at his renowned Brave New Restaurant. Lee Richardson, the New Orleans native who recently stepped down from his post at the Capital Hotel, where he brought national attention to Little Rock for his magnificent work at Ashley’s — also rumored to be toting a secret stash of raw milk as a secret weapon. Brian Deloney, a Little Rock native with a taste for Cajun and Creole, was schooled by the hallowed hand of Mr. Emeril Lagasse himself; now headmaster at his Riverdale restaurant, Maddie’s Place. Donnie Ferneau, a man still fresh into his free agenthood, brought home numerous accolades to his once eponymous Hillcrest haunt, Ferneau’s — he won’t be making “grown-up mac-and-cheese,” I assure you. Other competitors include Capi Peck, of Trio’s restaurant; Mark Abernathy, of Red Door and Loca Luna; Restaurant 42’s chef Stephen Burrow, who hears “Hail to the Chef” every time he enters a room, and more.
The event benefits the Thea Foundation in North Little Rock, a non-profit arts organization that advocates and supports the arts in the lives of Arkansas’s youth through scholarships and other art-centered programs, encouraging high school seniors interested in pursuing the arts through higher education. You can learn more about the Thea Foundation at this link.
What’s all this going to cost you? Well, you’ll have to pay a handsome price to get in on the action. General admission tickets are $100 per person; they can be purchased here. But if you like food, you enjoy watching chefs at work, and you’ve got a Ben Franklin burning a hole through your pocket, this is just the right event for you.
(The Capital Hotel is located at 111 W. Markham St, Little Rock. For more information, visit the Governor’s Culinary Competition website here.)