The Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted what could only be described as a successful Taste of Southeast Arkansas fundraising event on a rainy Friday night at the Pine Bluff Country Club.
Event organizer Kali Walker, the special events coordinator for the Chamber and the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said the event, which drew more than 125 people, raised at least $8,000 for the Jefferson County Young Professionals Network.
“I wanted to do something to get the network back on its feet in order to allow young people who live or work here to be able to make a difference in people’s lives here in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County,” Walker said as the event was under way. “Attempts were made in the past to put it together but it didn’t catch on. Once it’s up and running the group will allow young professionals to network with each other.”
Walker said she came up with the idea for a tasting fundraiser as a result of her experience organizing the Small Business Expo that is held every May.
“Taste of Pine Bluff used to be a part of the Expo but it was mostly fast-food restaurants,” Walker said. “I decided that it would be fun to have a tasting with top chefs from around central and Southeast Arkansas. In order to put it together I relied heavily upon chef Jamie McAfee here at the Country Club. He called the chefs he knew and asked them to participate in this. Ben Trevino was also instrumental in helping me to put this together.”
Eight chefs were paired up with eight local leaders in the fields of education and local government to offer up delicacies ranging from the duck spring rolls of Chef Brian Hargis of Stuttgart to the shrimp and grits of Chef Donnie Ferneau of Little Rock to the chocolate-pumpkin roullade with mocha rum sauce and cherry sauce of Chef Jan Lewandowski of Little Rock.
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Chancellor Laurence Alexander assisted Lewandowski.
“This is a really terrific event for the community,” Alexander said. “It brings folks together for an opportunity to sample some of the best food in the state.”
“I’m really excited to be here,” said Lewandowski, of Blue Cake Company in Little Rock. “We have a lot of customers down here in Pine Bluff.”
Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell was enthusiastically assisting Hargis as they served up duck spring rolls.
“Come on over and try this,” Howell said as people approached his table. “This is the best dish in the place.”
Howell admitted that while the event was not a competition it was hard to contain his competitive spirit.
“Any time I can do something to help the community out I am glad to be a part of it,” Howell said. “It’s all part of getting Pine Bluff back to its former glory. Events like this are what it’s all about.”
Southeast Arkansas College President Steve Hilterbran was helping Monticello Country Club Chef Duke Eyman serve up pan-seared sea scallops with chili sauce and fried won tons stuffed with goat cheese.
“This is great because I like to cook but I don’t like to clean up,” Hilterbran laughed as he plated a won ton. “I made what I called daddy’s surprise for my kids when they were growing up so I really just enjoy doing things like this.”
Eyman said he was happy to be a part of the event.
“It’s wonderful,” Eyman said. “It’s nice to come up here and see these nice folks and get out for a while.”