Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Food Insider takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of 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 it’s Tovya Prince, kitchen manager at Rebel Kettle Brewing Co.
Where are you from?
I’m from Little Rock, born and raised.
Have you always had a passion for cooking?
I’ve been cooking pretty much all my life. I started with my Grandma, my Dad was also a huge cook, and my Mom as well. Pretty much in my family, everything is centered around food, whether it’s bad or good. … Every gathering is about food – it’s just always there. It’s developed as a passion. My mom was single mother for a while, and she would make the meat the night before and I would come in and I’d make the sides.
How did you make the move to the food industry?
I graduated from Vanderbilt in 2010, and then I moved out and had my little stint in the corporate world. I use my psychology degree every single day. I worked in the life insurance industry for a private firm. … Everything that I learned in the business world has helped develop me and carries me through my endeavors. For instance, I have a small catering business on the side called Tovya’s Table. Everything that I’ve gone through has helped shaped me from where I’m going and where I am. I was cooking all the time just for myself and making all these beautiful creations [and] that’s when I felt like this is something that I’m passionate about – this is something I want to pursue.
How did you end up back in Arkansas?
I ended up coming back after the company that I worked for closed. It was just the way that everything lined up it was pushing me towards my passion. That’s when I really started writing stuff for Tovya’s Table. It has a section called “table manners,” – little positive tidbits, life lessons, or things that I’ve gone through. I know that it’s really easy to point out the negative in life, but I am always trying to look for the positive. I was constantly writing and I wanted other people to try my food. … It’s still small scale now, but I wanted it to be online-based because I wanted to share recipes.
How did you end up working for Rebel Kettle?
When I started my little catering business, I knew I needed to get some commercial kitchen experience. So I started working at Another Round in January of last year. It went well, and a friend knew someone who was bartending here, and knew it was opening. I just love all the companies that work here that are startup companies. I like the experience that comes with working with them. … I came and applied and it was a good mix with good vibes. They hired me and I’ve been working here as a line cook. I’ve always tried to go above and beyond in all my endeavors, and people took notice of that and before I knew it I was in management position. I work with Gwen Jones who is also a kitchen manager here as well.
Have you gotten to make a mark on the menu yet?
That’s what we’re currently working on, along with other good news. On Sept. 12 we’re going to start opening on Mondays, and our new menu is going to come out also. … We’re going to feature more shareable items. … and when you come in we don’t want you to question what you’re getting – this is a Cajun/creole menu. We are also trying to move toward more local products.
Do you consider yourself a big beer drinker?
I am not a beer drinker, but, I wasn’t exposed to craft beer before, so I’ve found some that I like. I like to try the news ones. … I didn’t come here because it was a brewery I came here because of the kitchen. Now that I’m here, though, we’ve been able to experiment with the beer and the food. We experiment with those different flavors. There’s beer in our sour kraut, our beer brat, and our beer cheese – I never thought I’d like anything with beer but it’s really changed my perspective working here. It was a challenge for me, but I’ve enjoyed it thus far – being able to try different flavors and develop my own palate.
What’s your favorite type of cuisine?
It’s all over the place because I like to experiment. I am a pasta head – I can make anything out of pasta and I can put pasta in anything. It’s my weakness. I’m really into plating and making sure things look pretty. One thing that people don’t really know about me is that my minor in college was art. I pay a lot of attention to detail and what’s in the background.
What do you like to do in your free time?
As you can imagine as an entrepreneur and managing up here, I don’t have a lot of free time, but when I do, most of the time it is what I like to call test kitchen. I like to test out new recipes, and I like to read. Plus, a lot of people don’t know I like art, so sometimes I’ll go to an exhibit. I used to do pottery, I really miss it actually, I would put my headphones on and that was my release. It’s a great stress reliever.
What do you think about our local food/drink scene?
It has grown tremendously. I think it will continue to grow because people’s demands will change – people don’t really eat at fast food places anymore, they want to know where their food comes from. As those demands grow, our scene will continue to grow. When I came back, I was surprised at all the options we have now. I think we should continue to listen to the people for the growth to continue. I’ve just been amazed at the growth in Little Rock period.
You almost have to keep innovating to keep up when you’re running a kitchen. How do you stay on top of that?
The biggest thing that I’ve been able to do is just pay attention to the people – pay attention to what they do eat, what they don’t eat, listen to them when they have suggestions or complaints, and then, research. Checking out what’s new, what’s coming out – how can I change this or make this better? Everything that I cook – I make to my taste, so I make sure it tastes good to others, but I always try to add my own spin on it. Experimentation and research.
If you could go anywhere in the world for food, where would you go?
I mentioned I was a pasta head earlier, and I think I would love to go to Italy. It is number one on my list. I would love to go – the art there – it would just be heaven and check out two of my loves food and art.