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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/JOCELYN MURPHY Day 1 of the 2017 Roots Festival began at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville with a free culinary tasting event. - Photo by Jocelyn Murphy

Roots Festival 2017 opened last night with a special culinary tasting event hosted by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (With a conscious effort to enhance and expand -- both geographically and in content -- the culinary pillar of the festival, organizers are partnering with more venues and organizations in Bentonville than in previous years.)

The free event was open to the public and emcee'd by KUAF's Kyle Kellams and Antoinette Grajeda as they recorded live for a later broadcast of Ozarks at Large. The festival's distinguished all star culinary guests -- each paired with a notable Arkansas chef -- created a tasting dish for the event blending locally sourced ingredients with flavors and influences from their own restaurants and backgrounds.

A few examples include:

• St. Croix chef Digby Stridiron, paired with Rob Nelson of Bentonville's Tusk & Trotter, connected Ozark favorites in the way of pork belly and potato salad to the flavors seen in his own style with a bourbon spice on the pork and African spices throughout the whole of the dish. Stridiron confidently explained to curious grazers the similar origins of Southern food and the cuisine of his home in the Virgin Islands.

• Wisconsin chef Justin Carlisle used local ingredients -- melon, trout, tomatoes and more -- within the profile of a dish he might create at his own, 80% self-sustained restaurant. Carlisle also happens to be part of the first "culinary ambassador program," as creator Daniel Hintz is calling it, between the Northwest Arkansas culinary scene and outside communities. Knowing Carlisle was already coming down to participate in the Roots Fest, Hintz used the opportunity to jump-start this "cultural and expertise exchange" by taking chefs up to Wisconsin last week -- Travis McConnell of Bentonville's Butcher & Pint, Rob Nelson, and a chef and student for the Brightwater culinary institute -- to experience another city's culinary scene. This first "exchange" was organized around and capitalized what Roots already had int he works, but Hintz says more opportunities for getting NWA's food scene on people's radars are already presenting themselves.

• A beef tenderloin served with a touch of lemon and "some tart flavors for a balanced bite" served over soft, homemade sourdough bread "seems like random flavors, but is cohesive" on the palette, said chef Sachin Chopra. Indian heritage, classical French training and head chef of a Michelin one-star California establishment, Chopra describes his style as "new American exotic."

• Giddy over the number of people saying "yes" to peanuts over the top of her ceviche (as she's used to having to frequently work around peanut allergies), Latin American chef and author Maricel Presilla proudly shared with guests how the refreshing -- but spicy! -- dish comprised Arkansas corn, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, as well as peppers she brought with her from the Amazon. Laughing, she revealed the very first place she went when she landed in Northwest Arkansas several days ago was the Rios Family Farm in Rogers to meet the family and choose her ingredients.

Guests at Crystal Bridges also got to enjoy a charming performance from Roots Fest regular Raina Rose as the sun set behind the museum. Fellow NWA favorite Matt The Electrician followed by the Jacob Joliff Band closed out the evening entertainment.

Keep an eye out for other free events like this in next year's schedule and reserve tickets early to enjoy food, music and community with Roots.

Photos coming soon.

NAN What's Up on 08/24/2017

Print Headline: Roots Fest Day 1

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