The rich aroma of smoked meat met with summer heat readied guests to indulge in local cuisine and chilled cocktails Saturday at Roots Food and Spirits, a single-day culinary event hosted by Fayetteville Roots Festival that took place Aug. 22-26.
This year’s Roots Food and Spirits was the first of its kind in Fayetteville. The venue, an idyllic inn called Pratt Place, sits just two miles from Razorback Road. The event focused exclusively on local food and spirits.
The Fayetteville Roots Festival is a five day urban music and food festival that has occurred annually for nine years. The festival takes place at 10 music stages in Northwest Arkansas, and includes multiple culinary stages and events. Several local business sponsored the festival, including Bayard Guitars, George’s Majestic Lounge and Maxine’s Taproom.
Sustainable eating was a major theme of Saturday’s event. The Roots Food and Spirits main stage hosted four “taste and talks” with local farmers and food advocates, a program where chefs, farmers and presenters speak about topics surrounding food. Fried chicken was served as speakers were raising awareness about food waste and promoting sustainability.
Sustainability is one of the three pillars of the Fayetteville Roots Festival, along with art and food, said leader of the Roots sustainability team, Marci Devenney.
At one of four sustainability tents, guests drop off their garbage to be sorted and, eventually, recycled or composted. Plates, utensils, and cups were made from entirely compostable eco-material. Food and eco-materials were ground on-site and made into fertilizer to be sold locally, Devenney said.
At the food recovery station, uneaten foods were packaged and redistributed to charities like the Salvation Army. The food recovery effort was managed by Tri Cycle Farms, a Fayetteville farm dedicated to promoting food recovery and sustainability. In 2017, Tri Cycle farms redistributed 30 tons of wasted food to Northwest Arkansas and surrounding areas, according to their website.
The event featured an array of programs, including various tastings, lectures, demonstrations and competitions.
The tasting tent accompanied sample-sized plates with spirits for focused tastings. The first group of chefs, cooking 12-2 p.m., paired their meals with beer from local breweries. The second group, 3-5 p.m., served food paired with cocktails from their respective restaurants.
Chef Matthew Bell of Little Rock served a nearly entirely locally sourced meal consisting of smoked pork belly and corn slaw. The pork used was from the Grassroots co-op in Lone Oak County, Ark. and vegetables from Dunbar County, Bell said.
Bell is the head chef of South on Main, a restaurant and performance space dedicated to southern culture and cuisine.
The experiential tent challenged guests to experience food in new ways. Events included a blindfolded taste test in which chef Justice Mill served a mystery meal to a crowd of curious foodies. Mill encouraged guests to use all of their senses to figure out what they were eating, even suggesting that guests abandon all utensils.
“Being blindfolded was very disorienting for the first couple of minutes but it made me think more about what I was actually eating,” said UA alumnus Alec Burgess.
Mills revealed to a surprised crowd that his mystery entree was a chicken, ostrich and duck meatball on basmati rice, topped with pickled carrots and a chipotle citrus glaze.
“I thought I was eating beef meatballs and grits. I definitely wasn’t expecting ostrich,” said UA alumni Nathan Owens.
Mills is the head chef at River Grille Steakhouse in Bentonville. The restaurant features a similar event called Dining in the Dark, in which patrons sit blindfolded for two hours as Mills and staff serve a five-course meal with four-course wine pairings.
The competition tent hosted three events for chefs to compete in: a cocktail competition, a professional chef cook-off and a contest for local high school students.
Six high school teams competed in the student cook-off. The students had one hour to make a meal and present it to a panel of professional chefs. The pantry available to the students was limited and the event was held in the full heat of the afternoon. In case the conditions of the contest weren’t difficult enough for the young chefs, they were required to incorporate a mystery ingredient into their meal: pig’s cheek, otherwise known as pork jowl.
Seniors Yasmine Bolonas and Bayleigh Grebe of Van Buren High School won first prize and a total of $1,000 towards their school’s culinary arts program.
Roots Food and Spirits was UA senior Jared Henry’s first taste of the Fayetteville Roots Festival.
“It’s mostly an older crowd, but you can tell everybody is having fun. Everyone is being really friendly,” he said.
Under the heat of the sun, rejuvenation came in the form of a variety of cool treats. Those looking to put a kick in their step ordered the Early Riser, a chilled coffee beverage mixed with bourbon, honey, cardamom bitters and cold brew, at the Red Barn Bar, a bar inside of a big, red barn.
At the aptly named tiki tent, guests put in some elbow grease to hollow out coconuts later used to contain vodka-infused daiquiris. The coconut creations were available in either cardamom or pineapple, complete with a tiny paper umbrella.
For underaged festival-goers, Pedal Pops, a Fayetteville-based popsicle company, served tasty all-natural frozen treats made with unexpected ingredients. Children and adults enjoyed flavors like lemon basil watermelon, mango cayenne and pineapple cilantro.
Fayetteville Roots Festival will bring back Roots Food and Spirits next year as an annual extension of Roots festivities, said Mary Mickel of Resplendent Hospitality.