Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Food Insider takes a look at those who are helping transform our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. This week, we feature Executive Chef Casey Copeland of SO Restaurant – Bar.
Where are you from, and how long have you been a chef?
I’m a Texas native, and I’ve been cooking in kitchens since I was 15, but I’ve only been out of culinary school since 2009.
Where did you first get your start, and how did you end up at SO?
My first solid line cook position was shortly after culinary school. My good friend Stephen Burrow, who graduated culinary school with me, gave me a call and said they had a position open at the Clinton Library. So, I made the move from Texas to Arkansas. There Stephen and I climbed the ranks to Executive and Sous Chefs. I then took off to presume those roles – working as Exec of Pleasant Valley Country Club and Hot Springs Country Club. At one point I took off for Dallas again to take care of family stuff, then came back to Arkansas to work as the Exec of Gina’s Catering. Just when I was stressing out because I knew that’s not what I wanted to do for a long term plan, the opportunity for SŌ just fell in my lap, and I took it, knowing then I was meant to do this.
Can you briefly describe SO’s aesthetic for someone who hasn’t been in, yet?
We have a sleek wine cellar atmosphere. It’s a quaint dim-lit place to get away and have a beautiful dinner with friends and significant others. We also have a more open, well-lit option on the back of the restaurant – much like what you would find in Manhattan’s SoHo District.
What’s your favorite part of being a chef?
My favorite part of being a chef is the joy I get from being able to present edible artwork to people, and seeing their enjoyment. Also I love that it’s a constant learning environment – there are always new products and techniques to learn.
What’s your favorite item on the menu?
My favorite item on the menu is the Cold Smoked Prime Filet with Bone Marrow Mashed Potatoes and Grilled Asparagus, but that’s just because I grew up on meat and potatoes at every meal.
What have been some highlights about working at SO?
I love getting complete control of all the dining aspects and being able to develop the ambience I want. I have an incredibly strong staff – from the front of the house to back of the house. This has been the platform that I’ve been wanting for the past six years.
What about some of the toughest moments?
It’s definitely been tough getting everybody on board with the movement in food I’m trying to create for Little Rock. I just want everybody to be fueled up about what levels of fine dining could be reached here. Currently we offer lunch service Thursday and Friday and we are now doing Saturday and Sunday brunch as well as our dinner service. I’d love to see new guests come out and try it.
Do you have any exciting news for the future?
We will be pairing up with Hocott’s Garden Center next door when they get their new greenhouse finished to do a farm-to-table type dinner in their garden area. I’m super excited about this, but it will be a little wait until we get everything in place.
If you could change anything about Little Rock, what would it be?
I really wish people could shut off opinions on small portions and open their minds a little more when trying out of the ordinary ingredients. I want all of the local restaurants to aim for their best, if we do better as a community and all the restaurants and big names are coming up and we become an even stronger food community, then that draws people not only from our state but people from out of state. … I know we can do it – we have a lot of great chefs right now.
What is your all-time favorite local drink/brew?
I have always been into Bourbon and Whiskey so I’m pretty easy going on my drink selection. I’ve really been into Lost 40’s Honey Bock lately, though.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I definitely like to kick back and watch Netflix and sleep, as I don’t get much of that being a chef. I also like to catch up on video games.