Explore the food of Italy from Petit Jean Mountain

Quick! What’s your favorite Italian food? Did you say lasagna? Or how about spaghetti and meat sauce with a hefty slice of garlic bread? Oh, those yummy carbs. I love those dishes, too, but there’s so much more to authentic Italian food than what normally comes to mind. Or so I hear.

I’ve never been to Italy. Unless, of course, I count the six long hours I spent during my junior year of college stranded at the Dairy Queen in Italy, Texas. As unforgettable as my day was (long story before cell phone days), I don’t think I can compare that Italy in North Texas to the home of the Roman Empire, the country that introduced us to Prada and Pavarotti, the place that brought us olive oil and capers and silky soft gelato, be still my heart.

Thanks to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, I’ll soon have my chance to at least explore the food of Italy. Certified Executive Chef Robert Hall will be providing a culinary tour of Italy via his next Chef’s Tasting Dinner scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26.

Don’t expect plain ole pepperoni pizza.

Did you know there are 20 regions of Italy, each with distinct flavors and dishes? Chef Hall will bring these regions to Petit Jean Mountain as he provides 20 small plates, most expertly paired with wine for sipping.

The Tour of Italy Chef’s Tasting Dinner will be held in the Institute’s culinary classroom, with many dishes prepared demonstration-style. Throughout the meal, Chef Hall will introduce each course, explaining the particular small plate and how it represents a particular region of Italy. So yes, with a fabulous meal, you will experience a bit of Italian history.

Chef's Tasting Dinners fill up quickly, so make your reservations online today or call toll-free 866-972-7778 for additional information. Tickets, sold only in pairs, are priced at $235 per person. The price includes overnight accommodations (one room with a king- or two queen-size beds) and continental breakfast the following morning.

Arrivederci, and see you there!

For information on culinary events available at the Institute, see the listing for upcoming Classes & Events. Read more from Talya Boerner at Grace, Grits, & Gardening.              


The best kind of success

Westrock Coffee is the best coffee I've ever had.

I could tell you all about the richness of its taste, the quality of the beans used, the precision with which it is roasted, and those things all make it a great-tasting cup of coffee.

But these factors are not what put it over the edge to make it the best coffee I've ever had.

The X factor for why I enjoy Westrock Coffee above other brands is that I know with every bag of beans I buy, I'm helping create a sustainable future for people in need.

Woven into the business DNA of Westrock is a commitment to create and sustain opportunities for success for people in East Africa. That commitment has gone beyond just buying and trading the coffee that is produced in countries like Rwanda and Tanzania. Westrock has provided training for local farmers in those countries and invested in equipment for harvesting and processing. This commitment has a dual benefit. For one, it helps ensure that the coffee being produced is of the highest quality. Second, it means that Westrock is staying true to its purpose as a social enterprise - having a positive social impact through good business practices.

Social entrepreneurship is an idea that's been around for a while now. Many credit Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus with being the godfather of social entrepreneurship. Yunus pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, concepts that Westrock CEO Todd Brogdon worked with in Africa before joining Westrock.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute recently switched all of its coffee products (consumed by customers and guests, plus employees) to Westrock Coffee. That decision was really a no-brainer. By offering Westrock Coffee, we're supporting an Arkansas-based company, but we're also showing our commitment to the concept of social entrepreneurship.

My basic understanding of social entrepreneurship is this: Positive social change can be accomplished through traditional business practices. And by tying social change to a profitable business model, both the social change and the business can be sustainable.

This weekend, the Institute is partnering with the Clinton School of Public Service, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and the University of Arkansas Office of Entrepreneurship to host the 2015 Social Entrepreneurship Boot Camp. With the boot camp, we are providing an opportunity for a group of new and aspiring social entrepreneurs to receive mentoring and support in such areas as scalability, legal issues, ethics, impact measurement, pitch training and more.

This model of business is exciting, but it is not yet ubiquitous. There are some great examples here in Arkansas of social enterprises (Westrock, Pitza 42, Tagless), but it's certainly not the norm. Not yet, anyway.

As Eric Wilson, executive director of Noble Impact, recently told Arkansas Business, "Arkansas has all the ingredients to be a thought leader in this field."

We wholeheartedly agree, and we hope the boot camp is a launching point for ideas and conversations that move the needle forward on social entrepreneurship in Arkansas.

While the boot camp as a whole is only being offered to participants who went through a thorough application process, our opening-night keynote address from Steve Clark (7 p.m. Friday, July 17) is free and open to the public, though registration is required. You can read more about Steve Clark here (subscription to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette required), or check out this video of him discussing social entrepreneurship.

The format for the keynote will be an interview of Steve by Talk Business & Politics publisher Roby Brock. Talk Business & Politics has provided great support for the boot camp, as has the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce. We are proud to be working with such great sponsors and partners, and we think the wide interest in this topic is evidence of its growing relevance in Arkansas.

The more social enterprises we have here, the more we as consumers can feel good about the goods and services we purchase, the way I feel each time I take a sip of Westrock Coffee. It's a beautiful thing.


Resident archaeologist retires, reflects on his own past

Arkansas archaeologist Dr. Leslie "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy “refuses to forget what time has buried.” So says The National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman’s Commendation, awarded to him in 2012 for his many professional achievements, including that “he has trained countless volunteers, from young students to enthusiastic retirees, spreading his infectious love of history across the 75 counties of the state.”

Certainly, he has earned the retirement he’s about to take from Winthrop Rockefeller Institute Research Station.

I caught up with Skip just before he had to go deliver supplies for the 2015 Arkansas Archaeological Society Dig and attend the dedication of two memorials at an African-American cemetery he helped to map and record.

Q:  Congratulations on your upcoming retirement!

A:  Thank you.

Q:  How long has your career spanned?

A:  I joined the Arkansas Archaeological Survey in August 1977—almost 38 years.

Q:  Fantastic. Most of your career has been right here in our own backyard—in Arkansas.

A:  It was too good an opportunity to pass up. When I was doing my doctoral dissertation fieldwork in Massachusetts, there was an archaeologist about every 40 feet, it seemed like. And when I came to Arkansas, I had 75 counties to play in. I didn't need to go anywhere else.

Q:  Most people associate archaeology with sites of grandeur. What's so fascinating about excavating ordinary places?

A:  I don't think there are any ordinary places. There are fancy places where governors, kings and pharaohs live and die, but those are complicated sites, and we tend to learn more about governors and kings from them than about ordinary folks. I'm more interested in ordinary folks.

Q:  Can you tell me about one dig that was particularly meaningful?

A:  Well, there have been many. One was Sanders House, in Washington, Arkansas. Washington is one of those places that survived with the landscape somewhat intact from before the Civil War—the town plan is still there.

On the Sanders site, the house was still standing but it had originally been surrounded by lots of buildings, fences and gardens. Supposedly there was a separate kitchen, which we eventually found. These kitchens were not just cooking areas—they were slave quarters. So we were able to explore a whole variety of issues. Among other things, we discovered that these kitchens weren’t separate at all. They were connected to the house by a walkway. The explanations given for why there were separate kitchens—fire dangers, mosquitoes, heat and all those kinds of things turned out to be rather silly. The Sanders house had four or five fireplaces in the house itself. There was just one fireplace in the kitchen. There were no screens then, so there were as many bugs in the house as in the kitchen. It was social separation rather than a physical separation.

By looking ostensibly for a building we were actually looking for a whole way of life.

Our archaeology was part of the process that led to the reconstruction of the kitchen and all its associated outbuildings. 

Q:  I'm fascinated by the work you've done with documenting African-American cemeteries. 

A:  I got involved in cemetery work because the Arkansas Archaeological Society got involved in cemetery work. We got started with a grant program so that black cemetery associations could apply for help in cleaning up cemeteries.

We work with communities to find these cemeteries, to map them, on occasion use fancy toys to find graves. But mainly to record them as cemeteries. Again, ordinary folks.

Q:  Speaking of fancy toys, what's the next frontier in your field? 

A:  Probably remote sensing. Techniques to look into the ground before you dig. Metal detecting is one example, but ground communicating radar, electrical resistivity and magnetometry will find foundations, or evidence of foundations. So we're much more efficient—we can get a sense of what's potentially below the surface. You still get to dig. You just don't have to dig boring holes with nothing in them anymore.

Q:  Just for fun—if you were given a blank check to put toward any archaeological project in the United States right now what would it be?

A:  I'd like to find out more about the first Arkansas post, which we have now found—the 1689-1749 post, complete with a cemetery with Christian Indians buried in it. We found it during a society dig in southern Arkansas County.

We kept finding these caches of brass tinkling cones that were common on Indian and French pioneer outfits that turned out not to be caches at all, but what was left of burials. While we were exploring that, a site survey nearby came up with broken French dishes. It’s since been shown to be the first Arkansas post, one of the first pioneer settlements in the entire Mississippi Valley. It was buried by clay from the Arkansas River for many years.

I'd like to find out more about that site. The French would not have made it without the Quapaw, so here's an opportunity to examine Colonial relations between them.

Q:  Any suggestions for ordinary citizens wanting to get involved with archaeology in Arkansas?

A:  Get involved with the Arkansas Archaeological Society. Anybody who wants to volunteer and agrees to the set of ethics can come do real archaeology with us. Right now, there is a dig going on near the Parkin site in eastern Arkansas, with probably 150 people participating, anywhere from age 13 to 95—of which about 20 are professional archaeologists. It’s a great hobby and it's in your backyard. We have chapters all across Arkansas. 

Q:  One more thing: do you own a bullwhip and a fedora?

A:  I haven't been issued them yet! Someone did give me a tricorn hat once, but I've never worn a fedora. And oddly enough, I've never found a use for a whip!


The inspirational food journey of Dr. Tim Parmley

Dr. Tim Parmley, who lives just north of Morrilton, has discovered a successful strategy for keeping off the 100 pounds he’s recently lost. For the most part, he only eats what he cooks himself. Eating out is reserved for rare occasions and special treats. After losing a tremendous amount of weight, he was determined not to gain it back as so many do. “I realized I had to control exactly what I was putting in my mouth,” he said.

Easy said, not so easy done. According to his wife, Patricia, before Tim learned to cook, he barely knew how to use a can opener.

The Parmley’s story is typical and relatable. Today, our careers are mostly sedentary. Entertainment involves going out to eat. Where do you want to eat? I don’t care, where do you want to eat? Over time, the pounds pile on because we don’t burn off what we take in. It’s a matter of simple math, yet the complications and potential health issues are anything but simple. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 78 million American adults are obese. Obesity leads to many of the leading causes of preventable death including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Preventable. That’s the good news.

When I was a kid, my mother prepared three meals a day, and we all ate around the kitchen table whether we wanted to or not. During the school year, the cafeteria ladies saw to it that we observed the philosophy of the food pyramid. A poster claiming You Are What You Eat hung beside the milk icebox. While we may not have eaten healthy by today’s standards (yes, we sometimes ate fried baloney, and no, kale wasn’t a popular thing) fast food barely existed and certainly wasn’t the norm. During the last few decades, the busyness of life has flip-flopped the way we eat. Home-cooked meals are reserved for Thanksgiving while supper is eaten in the car during a mad dash to soccer practice.

The Parmleys, who are both physicians, have proven it is possible to take control of your eating and your health. Tim’s cooking journey began in early 2014 when he saw a newspaper ad for cooking classes to be held on Petit Jean Mountain at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. He dove right in, signing up for the full 12-week basic cooking series.

“I’ve been cooking my whole life, yet from the first class, Tim came home teaching me things,” Patricia said. After the end of the “basic training” classes, he signed on for the 12-week baking series.

Last week, he made a fresh blueberry tart from the blueberry bushes growing on their property. Keeping weight off while enjoying the occasional homemade baked goodie—how’s that for a success story? No deprivation. That’s key.

Now the Parmleys are faithful attendees of most every culinary event held at the Institute, including basic cooking classes, Chef's Tasting Dinners, and Table for Two date nights. And they are enthusiastic cheerleaders of Certified Executive Chef Robert Hall, who heads up the culinary classes. “Chef Hall’s a teacher. He shows us how to go home and cook the same way he does. We’ve learned how to make healthy meals and substitute ingredients. And every class is entertaining,” Patricia said. “Dinner and a show.”

Tim was of the generation of men who never cooked. “I thought if I couldn’t go out and eat a meal or have someone else make it for me, I’d die. Literally. Now I know I can do it myself. Chef Hall’s cooking classes have empowered me.”

Empowerment. What a stellar testimony.

For information on culinary events available at the Institute, see the listing for upcoming Classes & Events. To read about the Institute’s efforts to help combat obesity in Arkansas, see the obesity listing in Institute Programs.

Read more from Talya Boerner at Grace, Grits, & Gardening.


Growing a healthier Arkansas

Most Arkansans aren’t surprised when they hear reports from the United Health Foundation ranking Arkansas 49th in its annual America’s Health Rankings in 2014. Or they might shake their heads when they hear that, according to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, one-third of Arkansas children entering kindergarten are overweight or obese.  

It’s stats like these that prompted the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute to invite more than 60 key advocates to develop New Frontiers in Combating Obesity: A 10-Year Plan for Arkansas.  The soon-to-be-released plan is a collaborative effort of several organizations that have worked to combat obesity in the state. Among those organizations is the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention (ArCOP).

Founded in 2007, ArCOP is a broad coalition of more than 1,200 members who are invested individuals, nonprofit organizations, companies and government agencies. These members work together to decrease obesity by increasing physical activity and providing access to healthy and affordable food for all Arkansans.

ArCOP’s signature project is Growing Healthy Communities, which currently counts 56 counties among its members. Enrolled communities have multidisciplinary teams who develop community and school gardens, walkable cities, farmers markets, community centers that offer cooking classes and gyms, and other elements that afford the community access to physical activity and good food. Batesville and Lake Village led the way in the first years of the program, and Hot Springs and Benton are recent successes.

One of this year’s most successful events in the Growing Healthy Communities project was the Mayors Mentoring Mayors Lunch and Learn Series. Through a partnership with the Arkansas Municipal League, nine mayors from across the state hosted 38 other mayors to share their success stories and strategies for building better communities. Cities whose mayors are knowledgeable and excited about creating healthy communities are the most successful in the Growing Healthy Communities program.

Andrea Ridgway is one of the founding members of ArCOP and is this year’s chairperson. She says that one of the advantages of working as a coalition, as opposed to a nonprofit or a government agency, is their ability to act quickly and with more freedom. The diversity of its membership and leadership team also means that their projects and working groups have a large pool of expertise to draw from. ArCOP is funded through a variety of grant programs, and its member partners attend meetings, participate in the working groups and assist in developing funding opportunities.

ArCOP, like the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and so many others across the state, envisions a healthier Arkansas where all its citizens have opportunities to grow and flourish in communities that support active living and healthy eating.


The social entrepreneurship landscape

The landscape of entrepreneurialism in Arkansas is rapidly evolving. A key element in its development is the concept of social entrepreneurship, or the idea that a business can make a profit while being committed to bringing about positive social change.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and the Office of Entrepreneurship at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville are partnering to host the 2015 Social Entrepreneurship Boot Camp here at the Institute on Petit Jean Mountain the weekend of July 17-19. Teams of aspiring social entrepreneurs went through a competitive selection process to come to the boot camp, and they'll spend the weekend getting valuable input from a host of social entrepreneurship experts, both from Arkansas and beyond.

But we're kicking off the weekend with a public-facing event. Steve Clark, co-founder of Noble Impact - an organization that trains young social entrepreneurs at the high school level - will deliver a keynote address to kick off the Social Entrepreneurship Boot Camp. But instead of Steve simply talking about his perspectives on SE (though that would be sufficiently spectacular), we decided to use a different format, and we invited Roby Brock, editor of Talk Business & Politics, to conduct an interview with Steve.

Roby's interview of Steve, which will begin at 7 p.m. Friday, July 17, is free and open to the public. We just ask that you register in advance so we can manage the numbers. You can register for free for the Steve Clark/Roby Brock keynote by clicking here.

The teams of aspiring social entrepreneurs will be on hand, as will some of our mentors, so it should be a great time to network and learn more about this important topic.


Arkansas MarketMaker highlights local food, brings producers and consumers together

Well-known farmer and author Joel Salatin says, “This magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain’t normal.”

Millions of Americans agree with Salatin, and as a result, the local food movement has grown in the last decade. Beyond just seeking out local food, Americans are also starting to show a real interest in where all of their food comes from. But this comes with challenges.

The challenge for consumers and food-related businesses, like restaurants or grocers, is finding sources for their food. The challenge for producers, like farmers and farm businesses of all sizes, is finding markets and consumers of their products. Arkansas MarketMaker is a solution to these challenges.

MarketMaker is a user-friendly database operated out of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Office. It is intended to help market and connect growers, food producers, retailers, or anyone else with a food-related business to each other and to consumers. Developed by Darlene and Richard Knipe via the University of Illinois Extension Office, the database is used in more than 20 states. Arkansas joined the network in 2010.

So how does it work? Anyone with a food-related business can create a profile with details about what the business does, its location, contact information and other details. MarketMaker then then maps each location and allows users to search by location or business type to find the products they want. For example, in Arkansas a consumer can search for “Tourism” sites and find the Post Family Vineyard in Altus or J & P Ranch in Scott.

As Arkansas MarketMaker program director Beverly Dunaway says, the more participation the database has, the more effective it is for all users, and in the long run, the better it is for the agriculture industry in Arkansas. Farmers probably have the biggest challenge in using the system as they often work long hours and simply do not have the time or energy to devote to marketing their products. MarketMaker makes this aspect of business development fairly simple for busy people. It also consolidates all of their information into one profile so they don’t have to create profiles on multiple directories or databases elsewhere.

Another benefit of participating in this multi-state network is having access to food businesses in other states. If a restaurant in Louisiana is looking for regional produce, it may find a grower in south Arkansas or Mississippi. This type of network can also be a real boon for the farmer who wants to expand his or her sales nationally or for retailers who want to provide regional specialties in their stores or restaurants.

Growers, food producers, retailers, or anyone else with a food-related business is invited to create a profile at Creating an account is free, and Dunaway is happy to help people use Arkansas MarketMaker to its greatest effect. The database is also free to consumers to use to track down their favorite peaches or fish to use at their next family reunion or to find a great corn maze in autumn.


Switch up your routine with Mediterranean cuisine

Has your weekly menu been stuck in a rut? Scared to have more than salt and pepper in your spice rack? Well, now’s the time to change all that. You can learn how at Made From Scratch:  Mediterranean Cuisine. 

On Tuesday, June 2, at 6 p.m., Certified Executive Chef Robert Hall will demonstrate how to make traditional Mediterranean fare. We’re not talking the Mediterranean diet that’s become popular recently. We’re talking food from the region around the Mediterranean Sea. Think Greece, Sicily and Morocco. Think tapenade, tabouleh and baklava. 

Chef Hall will show you how to make a variety of robust, flavorful foods. Foods that are rich with herbs and spices. And he’ll do it with ingredients you can find close to home. Think cinnamon, lemon zest and mint. Think cucumbers, yogurt and walnuts. 

During the two-hour class, you’ll sample delicious food and learn proper culinary practices and techniques. All of which you can then replicate in your own kitchen. It’s simple, healthy food made fun. 

So switch up your routine today. Tickets are $15. You can register online or call 1-866-972-7778 (toll free). 

Made From Scratch is part of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute culinary program series. Upcoming Made From Scratch classes include Making Nutritious Delicious (June 16), Asian Cuisine (June 30) and Preserving (July 28). See the Classes & Events page for a full calendar.


The best ways to take in Shakespeare

As the daughter of a poet and English professor, I was raised on Shakespeare. By the time I was 8 or 9, I knew Romeo’s balcony soliloquy by heart, earnestly asking “What light through yonder window breaks?” My dad took me to film screenings at his college, where I saw Franco Zefferelli’s timeless film version of the star-crossed sweethearts, and sat breathless and agog through Roman Polanski’s gory and macabre Macbeth. We went to drama festivals where I laughed as hard at A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s hapless Nick Bottom as at any of my favorite sitcoms on TV, and fell in love with the feisty Katharina, from Taming of the Shrew, the way other girls my age did with Jo of Little Women, or Anne of Green Gables.

Long before the Bard’s plays were required reading at school, I knew them as pure entertainment – just as Shakespeare intended them to be. And though I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of his written words on the page, and the additional meaning that deep reading can reveal, I ardently believe that any reading of Shakespeare’s plays is hollow unless the work is also seen performed.

This June, WRI is facilitating both, with an in-depth seminar on The Merchant of Venice to be held Friday, June 12, through Saturday, June 13; and an outdoor performance of As You Like It by the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre Saturday, June 20.

The seminar is open to anyone willing to read, discuss, and think deeply about the text. An offering of the prestigious St. John’s College Great Books program, it’s a unique opportunity to engage with a classic work and discover its relevance to modern issues. Participants will be led through two, two-hour small group sessions by Dr. Victoria Mora, vice president of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, N.M. The program will include accommodations and meals, and materials will be provided.

As You Like It will be staged outdoors, my very favorite way to experience Shakespeare. The first time I saw The Tempest – the story of shipwrecked castaways – was on a wind-swept Atlantic coast, and it was unforgettable. What an equally inspired choice to use the beautiful natural landscape of Petit Jean Mountain as the fabled Forest of Arden for As You Like It. All the world a stage, indeed.

The family-friendly performance, part of the Arkansas Shakespeare Festival, is free and open to the public. It’s a great way to introduce kids to Shakespeare, or to acquaint yourself with one of his romantic comedies. But first and foremost, it’s going to be loads of fun. See you there!

Arkansas Women Blogger member Kyran Pittman has been chronicling her "big, little life" online and in print since 2006. Along the way, she became a contributing editor to Good Housekeeping magazine, where her work frequently appears; and the author of a memoir, "Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life," published in 2010 to critical acclaim (including a 4/4 star review in People magazine). A Canadian ex-pat, she lives in Little Rock, Arkansas with her husband and three sons, where she continues to tell her "story of us" at, a Babble Top 100 Mom Blog.


Chef's Tasting Dinners: more than a gastronomic experience

Food is a powerful thing. In the same way one rich, creamy spoonful of chicken and dumplings carries me straight back to my grandmother’s kitchen table, it can also transport me to places I’ve never been. Capturing the essence of time and place through food, that’s the idea behind the Chef's Tasting Dinners offered as part of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute culinary program series.

Intrigued? You should be. Executive Chef Robert Hall’s tasting dinners are masterful. Guests will enjoy 15-20 tasting courses, each crafted to highlight an exotic location, a unique time or a distinctive theme. And most courses will be expertly paired with wine.

Wait, what?

Yes, 15-20 tasting courses spread over four hours. Think flavorful, sophisticated bites enhanced with the perfect small sip.

Think amazing.

During the age of aristocrats, multicourse meals were commonplace, a way to prove social status and make use of massive 24-piece silver place settings. Chef Hall follows the traditional French course flow in his tasting dinners (even when the menu isn’t French). In other words, there’s a rhyme and reason for the flow of food. Appetizer followed by soup followed by eggs followed by pasta followed by… see what I mean?  It’ll be like dining at Downton Abbey, only you’ll be high atop peaceful Petit Jean Mountain wearing more comfortable clothes.              

A native Arkansan and graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, Hall got his food start as a prep cook in Conway at A Place To Eat (now closed).

“I needed a job,” he said. “Cooking got in my blood, and I fell in love with it.”

After such a modest start, Chef Hall has built an impressive resume that includes periods at The Excelsior Hotel (Little Rock, Ark.), Sundance Resort (Provo, Utah) and working as an executive chef for the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing. He also owned his own restaurant and catering company. But even with such a remarkable bio, Chef Hall is not a fancy pants. Guests of his kitchen quickly realize he’s a regular, down-to-earth sort of guy who’s passionate about food and eager to share cooking tips and technique.

Chef’s Tasting Dinners are held in the Institute’s culinary classroom, with many dishes prepared live, demonstration-style. As each course is plated and served, Chef Hall will provide a brief history lesson explaining the flavors and components of the dish and how it embodies the evening’s theme. Infotainment, he calls it. Information plus entertainment. You will learn something. Chef Hall is a natural teacher.

Tickets, priced at $235 per person and sold only in pairs, include overnight accommodations (one room with a king- or two queen-size beds) and continental breakfast the following morning. Whether you seek a romantic getaway or a fun girls’ weekend, Chef Hall’s tasting dinners provide much more than a gastronomic experience.

Tasting dinners scheduled through the end of the year include Food in Film (June 13), Tasting Tour of Italy (September 26), and Christmas Around the World (December 18). In addition to the Chef’s Tasting Dinners, the Institute offers other culinary programs such as Culinary Basic Training and Made from Scratch classes. Check the calendar of events to register today, or call toll free 866-972-7778.

Bon appétit!

Arkansas Women Bloggers member Talya Tate Boerner is a Delta girl who grew up making mud pies on her family’s cotton farm in Northeast Arkansas. After thirty years in Texas, she has returned to the state she loves, settling in Northwest Arkansas. Talya draws inspiration from nature and appreciates the history behind food, family, places and objects. She blogs at Grace, Grits and Gardening and has been published in Arkansas Review, Front Porch and several on-line publications. Talya believes most any dish can be improved with a side of collard greens.