If that isn’t the most ringing endorsement a chef could receive following a cooking class, I don’t know what is. Even the most suspicious diner could be charmed by the rustic yet complex cooking of South on Main's Chef Matthew Bell, and I can tell you for a fact that every guest at his packed cooking class on August 11th left feeling sold on Southern cuisine.
South on Main, Chef Bell's brainchild, opened in 2013 in partnership with the Oxford American magazine. As I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary of working at Eggshells, and Lindsey’s coming up on her one-year owner-versary, it seemed fitting that we have Matt Bell back after South on Main's first birthday!
Much has been written about the restaurant—I won’t rehash it for you. What you need to know is that South on Main is, well, all about the South. Its people. Its culture. Its literature. Its traditions. Its music. Its art. And, perhaps most importantly to Chef Bell, its food.
Make no mistake: this is Southern cuisine at its finest. The menu for the evening harkened back to Arkansas Delta dinners in the country. Pork and beans. Soulful, dense flavors that seem to make your heart sing. Onion jam—a Southern tradition. (Fun fact: I didn’t know that savory jam was a thing until I started working at Eggshells—now I can’t imagine my life without it!).
Chef Bell explained his use of ingredients some chefs may call low-grade or simple: “The South has always done a lot with what are considered low-grade ingredients.” Beans & pig’s feet become a dish fit for royalty under his hand.
What did we learn at his class on Monday? My poor little hands couldn’t write notes fast enough, but I managed to snag some tips straight from the mouth of the master:
Chef Bell shared his rules for beans:
3) Wait until the end to salt your beans to avoid making them hard & crunchy.
We also learned that good knives are essential for the home cook. Want to know Amy Kelley Bell, wife of Chef Bell & co-owner of South on Main’s, inexpensive knife secret? Kuhn Rikon carbon steel knives! He's right: they're portable, perfect for those with small hands (like me!), extremely functional & versatile--AND they're cute to boot. We're big fans of this mini prep cleaver, but they come in all sizes & colors (we're getting a shipment in ASAP).
Chef Bell enlisted the help of a few class attendees to help him roll the ham hocks for the pork trotters. Pretty awesome experience for those who were lucky enough to be chosen! Soon enough it was time to eat!
Matt was kind enough to provide us all with the recipe for his pork trotters--we can't wait to make these at home! While our guests ate their incredible meal, many asked questions. Nothing was off limits for Amy or Matt—they were graciously candid with their answers.
The farm to table movement is a huge trend in the culinary field, but Matt & Amy made it clear that their commitment to farmers is not a passing fad. For guests in search of local pork & chicken, Matt & Amy were glad to provide the names of local, Arkansas farmers that South on Main uses.
For Matt & the small staff at South on Main (a slim total of 27, including front of house help), care & craft is what food is all about. They don’t own a can opener—in fact, only two products come to them from a can (if you’re curious, one is tomato juice, the other a type of canned peppers [both of which feature pull tabs]).
They’re on their way to ensuring Southern culture & food finds an audience on the national (and hopefully world-wide) stage.
“We want Little Rock to feel like they have ownership of our restaurant,” Chef Bell said at one point during the class. He’s looking to “challenge people in Arkansas” to reclaim their Southern heritage, take pride in their traditional cuisine, as well as not shy away from the processes & people that help make good food happen.
“Don’t you want to know this guy takes pride in what he does?” mused the chef while telling an anecdote about Hillcrest Artisan Meats (an Eggshells favorite!). The answer? Yeah, Matt, we do!
an absolutely presh picture of Lindsey & Matt!
I’ll leave you how Matt & Amy left our class, with a favorite quote from Thomas Keller, written on a wall in the South on Main kitchen:
Like Thomas Keller, we can think of nothing more perfect than being able to spend time with y'all at our cooking classes. If you weren't able to make this one, sign up for one on the upcoming class calendar & let's share a table together. It's how we do it in the South.
'Til next time, y'all!