Let’s Eat: Bentonville is top of Arkansas culinary scene, James Beard reaffirms

Let’s Eat: Bentonville is top of Arkansas culinary scene, James Beard reaffirms

Garrette Moore
NWA Democrat-Gazette

Two chefs and one restaurant from Northwest Arkansas have been named semifinalists in the James Beard Foundation’s 2022 Restaurant and Chef Awards.

The awards are among the most prestigious honors in the United States culinary industry.

Rafael Rios of Yeyo’s and Matthew McClure of The Hive were recognized in the Best Chef: South, category, which includes chefs from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Puerto Rico.

The Preacher’s Son in downtown Bentonville was recognized in the category of Outstanding Hospitality.

The award winners will be honored June 13 in a ceremony at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.

Seeing three Bentonville businesses represented on this year’s list is a major accomplishment for the city and the region, according to Neal Gray, executive chef at The Preacher’s Son.

“For three Bentonville restaurants to become semifinalists for this prestigious award is a testament to the innovation and excellence of the restaurants in Northwest Arkansas,” says Gray. “We are proud to serve our community alongside these industry leaders.”

“There is no doubt in our region that Bentonville possesses an impressive food culture, and this national esteem is key for continuing to grow our reputation as a true culinary destination,” Kalene Griffith, president of Visit Bentonville, says.

Rios and McClure have both seen accolades over the years. Rios was named a semifinalist for the Best Chef: South award in 2020, and McClure was a semifinalist for the award for six straight years from 2014 to 2019.

In 2021, he was also honored with the Proprietor of the Year Award by the Arkansas Heritage Department’s Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.

The chefs have made their mark celebrating two different culinary cultures with high-quality ingredients and dishes: For Rios, Mexico. For McClure, Arkansas.

Rios founded the Rios Family Farm in Little Flock in 2012 with the help of his family. Soon after, his dream of opening a food truck was realized in downtown Bentonville.

Today, Yeyo’s has two food trucks, a flagship restaurant and a unique mezcaleria in operation in Benton County.

McClure, a Little Rock native, spent time learning the industry in Boston before moving back to his hometown in 2007 to help with the reopening of the Capitol Hotel’s fine dining restaurant.

Then he heard about the emerging arts and culinary scene in Bentonville.

In 2013, he opened The Hive in the 21c Museum Hotel with a desire to showcase Arkansas’ culinary heritage — with a new spin.

The Preacher’s Son has been known for its culinary excellence since it was founded by executive chef Matthew Cooper and Bentonville hospitality group Ropeswing in 2016.

Now headed by executive chef Neal Gray and general manager Adam Greene, the restaurant is housed in a church building that was constructed in 1904. The basement under the church is home to Undercroft, a cocktail bar.

The restaurant was nominated for the James Beard award for Outstanding Restaurant Design in 2018.

The James Beard Awards were established in 1991 and recognize “exceptional talent in the culinary and food media industries, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive,” according to the foundation.

Has a restaurant recently opened or closed near you? Does your favorite spot have a new menu? Let us know. Email us at gmoore@ nwaonline.com.

Categories: Food