by Max Brantley
I should report on the Arkansas Times' first farm-to-table dinner last night at the Scott Plantation Settlement: Good eating.
Shown above is an opening course: Heirloom tomatoes from organic farmer/publisher Alan Leveritt; watermelon and sweet onions from the Barnhill farm; locally raised arugula. It was dressed in a light citrus vinaigrette made by chef Brian Kearns, whose day job is head chef at the Country Club of Little Rock.
Heirloom tomatoes also figured in gazpacho "shooters" passed to guests with champagne on arrival. Ratatouille featured local squash, eggplant, onions and tomatoes. The grits were from War Eagle Mill. An uncommon succotash with black-eyed peas and corn was a hit. The centerpiece was a roasted heritage hog, injected by Kearns' special blend of pork stock and a few other light seasonings, but not so much to shout down the essence of pig. A peach pie topped by Loblolly Creamery salted caramel ice cream completed a great meal, with tables adorned by locally grown flowers. Four wines paired with each course, from salad to dessert.
Small touches make the difference in special meals. For me, it was the tomato preserves dolloped on top of the platters of pulled pork (and the crunchy bits that I tried my best to monopolize.) Kearns cooked down tomatoes with sweet chili sauce and a touch of curry. I could eat it by the jarful.
The air was dry and a nice breeze made for a surprisingly lovely setting under a tent on the lawn of the collection of historic farm buildings. From where I sat, the sun set behind the outline of an old barn shed — in the distance, acres of rich farmland. It was pure dee Arky.
I hope we can continue working on this formula and enhance it even further. (I'd have added some bread from any of the many great local artisanal bakers.)
Another treat was Bonnie Montgomery's music.
You shouldda been there.