The Root Café, a farm to table hot spot for Little Rock locals and visitors alike, has a secret weapon in their kitchen that you may not have heard of. What is the ace they’re hiding up their sleeve? Well, it’s a queen actually, and her name is Monica Chatterton.
The Hendrix grad has been working at the Root for almost 3 years now. She has done everything from serving tables and mastering one of the best breakfast menus in town, to creating beautiful dinners with Head Chef Jonathan Arrington and selling artisanal pop tarts, or “Flake Babies” as she lovingly refers to them, outside of her work at The Root. Now, she is transitioning to her role as the new Pastry Chef for The Root and putting her heart and (very creative) soul into the desserts served at dinnertime.
When asked where her cooking skills came from, Chatterton credits her mother. “My mom has always been an incredible cook, so I think a little of that rubbed off on me. She was a private cook for an elderly French woman in our neighborhood [St. Francisville, Louisiana] who was super particular about her food, so she learned a lot working for her. I remember annoying my mom nearly every day asking her what was for lunch or dinner, the next meal was always on the brain- her food was just so good!”
Although Chatterton’s first foray into cooking was making lemon bars as a 10-year-old, (as she claims, “Sugar, butter, and lemon-what’s not to love”), her first job in food service was at a bed and breakfast working the front of house, and then as a bartender at ZaZa in Conway. When she began at The Root, she was working front of house as well, but lucky for all our stomachs, she was moved to the kitchen around six months into the job.
“Cooking at The Root has been great because I’ve been given a lot of creative freedom considering the short amount of time I’ve been cooking professionally. That freedom has let me learn and progress so much!” Now in her new baking role, Chatterton is both nervous and excited for the opportunity to continue learning at growing alongside Chef Arrington. “I am truly so honored to be the new Pastry Chef. The best part of this whole transition into dinner has been the personal growth and knowledge I’ve gained, but with the new title comes new responsibility. I’m kind of a perfectionist, so if I feel like something isn’t good enough it can eat me up inside. But it also motivates me to do better!”
After moving to North Little Rock this year and purchasing her new house, Chatterton is enjoying perusing for hidden food spots in town- Taqueria Jalisco’s is her favorite so far. Her favorite things to cook though lean more towards southern comfort food. “I work a lot these days, and my boyfriend travels with his band, so I really treasure those rare days that I get to cook for him. Anything with mashed potatoes, gravy, and fresh baked bread makes us both happy and slightly comatose.” Her dream dinner would be a similarly themed feast. “One year I wasn’t able to go home for Thanksgiving, so I made myself a pity feast and binge watched Battlestar Galactica. I made duck confit, French bread, several vegetable dishes, a sweet potato pie, and bought myself a fancy bottle of wine. That was probably the most extravagant meal I’ve ever prepared, so someday I’d like to make it again and share it with friends.”
Locally sourced food is important to Chatterton, which is what led her to The Root in the first place. She sources her Food, Culture, and Nature class at Hendrix for “opening my eyes to the importance of local food systems. I honestly can’t imagine working somewhere that didn’t prioritize supporting local farmers.” And while she thrives in the kitchen, being one of the few women cooking for The Root still has its challenges. “I would love to see more women in Back of House positions! For me, it’s small things like feeling alienated in conversations by male coworkers. It seems like there is a pressure on women in professional kitchens to prove themselves in some way more than men. This has always seemed absurd to me because of the expectation for women to remain in the home-or domestic kitchen- but not in a professional one. Thankfully, I do think that as a society we’re slowly shedding that stereotyped macho-chef expectation- women have so much to offer!”
So, if you’re still wondering about those artisanal pop tarts, or “Flake Babies” as Chatterton calls them, you’re in luck. “I ate poptarts for breakfast as a kid, they are very comforting to me. So I wanted to recreate that with really fresh ingredients and a nice pastry dough. Through trial and error, I ended up making something closer to a toaster strudel with super flaky pastry.” The flaky-goodness that Chatterton has been perfecting for the last few years is available to buy for the holidays, and no family event can be too terrible if poptarts are involved (it’s a proven fact). She is hoping to one day sell them regularly at the Bernice Gardens Market, but for now you can order them by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org or through direct message on Instagram at dankey___kang (with three underscores). They’re $30 a dozen or $18 for a half dozen, and current flavors include cranberry-cardamom, brown butter apple pie, sweet potato-coconut, pecan coffee-chocolate, or brown butter sugar-chai spice.