FAYETTEVILLE — The chance of rain was ever-present throughout Thursday’s (Sept. 13) Chefs in the Garden, but thankfully it held off. As the clouds rolled in, the temperatures dropped pleasantly, making it just right for a lazy stroll through the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks.
The food offered something to satisfy nearly every faction of the large and diverse audience. Repeat attendees knew they have to make plans early.
“We sold out this year and even had to turn people away,” said Liz Esch, director of special events at the gardens. “The event was my idea, but it’s just because I love to cook,” she said, laughing.
“You plan way ahead” for this event, said executive director, Ron Cox. He explained that volunteers and board members get the ball rolling in April or May to allow for the challenges and surprises that inevitably come with such a large, public event.
A total of 400 guests attended this year’s affair, which featured freshly prepared food by 12 local chefs, special wine pairings, a photo booth, a silent auction and some friendly competition between the restaurants represented.
Children skipped along the paths and rabbits darted out of the way as dark clouds moved in, cooling the atmosphere. The crowd relaxed and settled into a murmur of friendly conversation punctuated with laughter and light jazz in the background.
“It sure smells like it’s gonna be a great event,” said Bob Lambert as he entered the gardens.
Guests were met with a sensory overload as they began their rounds among the tents, selecting wine and entrees. The breeze flowed easily, wafting hints of turkey koftka kebabs, shrimp boil and spicy crab, among other fare.
Each restaurant set up a station under a small white tent and prepared the food in front of the guests, chatting easily and answering questions all the while. Portions were limited to optimize the amount of flavors and dishes each person could experience over the course of the evening.
Guests were invited to vote for their favorite chef by placing money in a jar on the chef’s table. The chef to accumulate the most money by the end of the evening would win.
Wasabi featured salmon rolls with lemon ponzu sauce and a side of Tempura Obha Leaf and a spicy Korean pork BBQ served on a lettuce leaf.
Starbucks employees announced to guests that a new branch is scheduled to open on Martin King Luther Jr. Boulevard in Fayetteville. At the event, they served two blends of coffee, paired respectively with a cinnamon coffee cake and chocolate brownie.
Italian-stuffed beef strip loin, pork grillades and grits and turkey primavera pasta were the order of the day from Cafe Rue Orleans. Vetro 1925 served Bruschetta di Tacchino, Maille con Frangelico and Panna Cotta alla Zaffereno.
Chefs from Table Mesa Bistro, Springdale Country Club, Little Bread Company, Kruton's Catering, Greenhouse Grille, Fayetteville Country Club, Ella's Restaurant and Chartwell's Catering also participated.
Items in the silent auction varied widely, much like the selection of food.
A few of the eye-catching items included a “Razorback arrangement,” of Razorback sayings on flags, arranged with attractive prints of ribbons and background, which could be sent in lieu of flowers.
A few romantic getaways were available, packages that included certificates for dinner and an evening stay.