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If you can stand the heat, cook

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PASS THE OIL: Asks Victoria Gross (right).
  • PASS THE OIL: Asks Victoria Gross (right).
Six years ago, Victoria Gross couldn’t even get one of Little Rock’s chefs to return her phone calls. “They ignored, ignored, ignored me,” laughed Gross, who plans special programs for the River Market. She was trying to put together a series of monthly cooking demos featuring the talent behind some of Central Arkansas’s best-known restaurants. Finally, Brave New Restaurant’s Peter Brave caved in and agreed to do the first Saturday morning class. Four people showed up — three of them Gross’s relatives. But Brave’s bravery opened the door for other chefs to sign up, and by last summer, Gross said, she was regularly filling all 40 seats in the River Market’s third-floor events space with people who were more than happy to pay $10 for the privilege. “They really get their money’s worth,” she said. This summer’s line-up again features a who’s-who of the Little Rock culinary scene, starting with Rob Best of Simply the Best Catering this Saturday, May 7. The classes run from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and it’s best to make reservations ahead of time (call 375-2552). Gross said she almost never knows in advance what the chefs plan to make, but they usually prepare about three different dishes, which attendees get to sample at the end of the class. Chef James Botwright of the new Lulav restaurant follows on June 25. He’ll no doubt whip up some of the “California kosher” cuisine that Lulav advertises. After Botwright comes the ever-popular Mark Abernathy of Loca Luna and Bene Vita, on July 9. Boulevard Bread’s Scott McGehee — who Gross said always draws a standing-room-only crowd — is scheduled for August 13, and Patrick Herron of Beechwood Grill will close out the series on an as-yet-undetermined Saturday in September. Gross herself gets in on the cooking-demo action every Tuesday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. You’ll find her in the small demo kitchen on the River Market’s main floor, across from Big on Tokyo, whipping up dishes solely with ingredients available at the market. If there’s an obscure food-related day, week or month Gross or her assistant can dig up, she’ll work that in. May’s Tuesday demos will include hamburgers and salads, in honor of, yes, national hamburger month and national salad month. In the past, such observances have directed her to focused on pretzels (made with pizza dough from Layla’s Pizzeria), pulling together half a dozen dipping sauce recipes, and even egg salad. Finding six distinct egg salad recipes was a particular challenge, she said. The Tuesday demos are great for people who love to shop the Farmer’s Market but are a little intimidated by all those green and red and purple and brown things laid out so pretty on the vendors’ tables with no instructions attached. “The vendors offer recipes too,” Gross said. “They’re realizing that’s a great way to sell their products.”

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