Fayetteville Roots has existed for most of the previous seven years under the radar as far as state festivals go. Part of it is the limited available tickets, part of it is the quirky (but really exceptional) folk music that grabs the spotlight. The culinary side of the festival, which runs from August 24-28th, is not to be missed.
Last year the folks at Fayetteville Roots invited me out to check out their culinary side of the lineup, and what I found was simply the best culinary festival lineup in Arkansas. In fact, if you factor in the festival size, it is one of the best I’ve attended.
“We really see the festival as equal parts culinary and music,” organizer Jerrmy Gawthrop says. “We really put a lot of attention and focus in bringing high quality chefs and programming into the culinary part of the festival. It is very important to us.”
The culinary portion of the festival has grown even larger this year. It thankfully has started to spread far outside of the limited ticket areas of the music portion. Now, this year, there are as many if not more things to do without a music festival pass than there are with it.
The limited tickets was always meant to create intimacy. Indeed last year I spent a ton of time one on one with chefs and renown musicians in a way that I have never been able to do at any other festival. The culinary programing changes this year allow for that same level of intimacy, but opens it up much more for people who just want to check out the food.
Everything kicks off on Thursday with a luncheon featuring Matt Bell (South on Main) and Anne Carroll (Farmer’s Table) that is open for anyone to attend. Then a VIP party for those with VIP festival passes happens that night with chefs paired together to create a dish. On Friday they roll out a new series called Master Classes at Brightwater in Bentonville. This will feature top chefs showcasing their talents in a classroom environment and bring in some good music as well.
On Saturday, one of the highlight events of last year, is the Chef’s cookoff. Eight chefs will shop the Fayetteville Farmer’s market, then prepare one dish to compete against each other. It is free to attend, and last year’s event saw hundreds of spectators spilling across the southwest corner of the square to watch. I am told this year will set up a bit differently to give more room for people to see.
Running throughout the event is the Taste and Talk series at Stage 18, which allows you to get to know chefs, brewers, coffee makers, wine makers, and other food personalities from across the state in a unique setting. They will talk a bit about their background, cooking philosophies, and a bit about their passions. Even better, you get to taste something from them during the process.
Chefs this year include Pecko Zantilaveevan from the Four Seasons in NYC, Maricel Presilla from Cucharamama in Hoboken, NJ, Digby Stratton from Balter in St Croix Virgin Islands, Justin Carlisle from Ardent in Milwaukee, and Sachin Chopra from All Spice in San Mateo California. Local and regional chefs include Matt Bell from South on Main, Scott Rains from Table 28, and a whole host of chefs from the NWA area.
The full culinary lineup can be found here. Seriously make a point out of heading to NWA for this, it is an outstanding event. Oh, and pro-tip, get double of anything chef Jason Paul makes.