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