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Episode 91: Chef Erin Rowe knows the Ozark Culinary Scene Better Than Anyone Else

Spread the Ozark love

About the Show:

We recently sat down with Chef Erin Rowe, Author of the book An Ozark Culinary History, and Founder of The Ozark Culinary Tours. Based in Bella Vista, Chef Erin knows her way around the Northwest Arkansas culinary scene. 

It took Chef Erin a year and a half of painstaking research to compile over 400 Recipes that are included in the book. Along with those recipes are timeless stories that are right at home here in the Ozarks. For those of you that may have grown up in Northwest Arkansas some of these stories will bring back fond memories of Sunday dinner with Grandma and helping out in the kitchen during family get togethers.

In addition to her book, Chef Erin decided that she wanted to expose as many people as possible to all of the great places to eat here in Northwest Arkansas. This desire to bring her book to life spawned the creation of the Ozark Culinary Tours. These tours visit a number of restaurants along with places that have historical food significance.  

From Arkansas to Maui and back Chef Erin Rowe has done it all.  Learn more about her and her love for Northwest Arkansas on this episode of the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. 

Important Links and Mentions on the Show*:

IANWA - 91 - Chef Erin Rowe knows the Ozark Culinary Scene Better Than Anyone Else

TZL Open [0:11] It's time for another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. The podcast covering the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship, and life in general here in the Ozarks. Whether you are considering a move to this area or trying to learn more about the place you call home, we've got something special for you. Without further ado, here's our fearless host, Randy Wilburn.

Randy Wilburn [0:40] Hey folks, welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host, Randy Wilburn. I'm excited to be with you today. I have a great guest, one that is going to hopefully by the end of this episode. You will be hungry, and you're going to want to check out some of the places that she's going to talk about on this particular episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I have Chef Erin Rowe on the show today, and Chef Erin has two things she has done in our area. She has the Ozark Culinary Tours, which she provides tours to some of the best eating destinations in Northwest Arkansas, specifically Bentonville and Rogers. She’s also covering Springdale and Fayetteville. I want to encourage you to check out the culinary tours, and we're going to talk more about that. We will make sure there's some information in the Show Notes. The second thing is she's written a book because a tour is one thing, but a book is something else, and a book lasts a lifetime. And so, she has a book on Ozark Culinary history. And so, for somebody like me, I've only been here five-plus years, I'm still learning things. So just like you guys, I hope to learn something new today from this particular episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. So, without further ado, I want to welcome Chef Erin Rowe to the show. How are you doing?

Erin Rowe [2:11] I'm great, Randy. Thanks for having me.

Randy Wilburn [2:15] I hope you like that introduction. I just wanted to build you up, so we're excited. We are excited to have you on the podcast. The way that we start this podcast is that we always ask our guests to share their superhero origin story. So, I would love for you just to share a little bit about who Chef Erin Rowe is.

Erin Rowe [2:38] Well, I didn't always have the cape and golden lasso. I just grew up in little old Siloam Springs, Arkansas. I didn't know how to cook when I was growing up. And I know my mom was a Kansas farm girl. Often, you know how kids sort of sneak off in high school and go to a party? I would sneak into the kitchen to learn how to cook after my mom went to bed. So, I taught myself how to cook by going painstakingly through pages of the joy of cooking and fell in love with the cooking world. Sort of like the Julia and Julia story that you've seen, maybe the movie or the book with Meryl Streep.

Randy Wilburn [3:11] It’s a very good movie.

Erin Rowe [3:13] It’s so good, cooking from basic cover to cover and making a bunch of mistakes along the way that sort of bouncing back and that being my formal education. By the time I went away to culinary school in Maui, they were like, we're going to be ready to have you go ahead and skip to the advanced courses. How do you know all this stuff already? And I was like I was interested, so I started learning. I went away to Maui just to sell Fine Art originally, right after college. And I found that I could pay off my student loans selling art on commission. But the best thing about selling art was when I would sell a painting or a portrait or a piece of photography or sculpture, I would take myself out to dinner. And Maui has a plethora of really elegant and gourmet restaurants that we didn't have in Northwest Arkansas until recently, once I came back from Maui, after Crystal Bridges after a lot of those changes from 2010 or 11 on. And so, for me now it was this formative experience in great food, [inaudible 4:12] you'd like to eat at a restaurant, said no if I ever go back to school, I will go to my Culinary Academy. A couple of years later, I went back, and I put myself through culinary school, wrote for a magazine out there called Now No Cut Way magazine, which was good writing at its best doing restaurant reviews. And then, basically, when I came back to Northwest Arkansas, I noticed that nobody was writing down the story of our food history here in the Ozarks. So, I pitched myself to a publisher. They bought it, hook line and sinker, and sent me a contract. And I began work on a book that took me about a year and a half of my life researching, writing, interviewing people like you're doing with me today. Hundreds of farmers, cooks, gourmet chefs, everybody that covers the whole food scene in Northwest Arkansas and writing that book down, I had in the back of my mind, I wanted to do an Ozark food tour. But I knew that I could only do one or the other to give it full credence. So, I focused on the book and put the food tour on the back burner. By the time the book is launched, and I've been doing lectures on it and talks for it for about a year after it launched in August 2017, I was like, alright, time for the food tour. Let's make the food we have here in Northwest Arkansas come alive, not just to the locals but the tourists.

Randy Wilburn [5:26] So, I guess my first question since you bring up the book and you mentioned the tours, let's start with the book. What was your biggest takeaway about the culinary representation of the Ozarks? If you had to say your biggest aha moment in your research and everything you looked at, and all of the people you interviewed, what was your biggest aha moment about the Ozarks’ unique culinary aspects of the Ozarks?

Erin Rowe [5:58] I think my biggest aha moment I had in the Rogers museum sifting through hundreds and hundreds of photographs, Randy that they had in old shoe boxes and file folders. I just wanted to document the food history through the pictures that I could find, almost like a pictorial representation of these old black and whites. And I would say about 75 percent of them are hunting and fishing pictures, which to me told me, wow, the Ozarks is fundamentally at its core, a place of hunting and fishing; and that's what makes up our food story. That's the core of the book for me. There's a lot of things in there. There's canning, pickling, corn in some chapter apple stew as well, but what is the heartbeat behind Ozark food and the research I did? It has to be whatever is most photographed. And it was pictures of guys and gals fishing, catching squirrel rabbit possum, hanging them from a gun who goes out hunting, trapping. That's our rich culinary heritage. And then, when I interviewed hundreds of fishermen, my biggest takeaway was that they are the ones that care about concrete conservation more than anyone else. They get a bad rap sometimes. People assume these guys are out hunting down the whitetail. Well, they're doing that to help cut down the population, so it's sustainable, and they don't get the wasting disease that we have right now in the buffalo river from the elk. There has to be some kind of control over the population. Hunters and fishermen have been doing it in the Ozarks before we had a Game and Fish Commission. And I'm grateful that they continue to do that now to help save our food heritage in such a big way. So that was my biggest aha or surprise moment.

Randy Wilburn [7:33] So, in compiling this, do you know offhand how many recipes you ended up categorizing in this book?

Erin Rowe [7:43] Well, it's funny you asked because the book is one-quarter of my research. Three-quarters of it didn't fit into the page requirements. If you want to talk about all that I categorized and researched outside of the book, and then what came into it, about 50 heirloom recipes that mostly were orally passed down got published in the book. But as far as recipes I gathered, probably over 400 is what I found in this research.

Randy Wilburn [8:09] And how many of those recipes have you tried yourself?

Erin Rowe [8:16] Probably about 95 percent and the other 5% that I couldn't get a hold of, let's say raccoon and sweet potatoes. I just went ahead and trusted a veritable source. I'm not a big person having the anxiety of eating raccoons, I can eat well, and I can do that, and I made those. But as far as some of the recipes I have in there, I know they are good recipes. I'm just not necessarily praising about raccoon myself, but it is part of our heritage, so I had to put it in there.

Randy Wilburn [8:46] It's funny you mentioned rabbit. I actually just interviewed the current President and CEO of Pel Freez based in Rogers. Are you familiar with them? [Cross-talking] They are all rabbits. And Pel Freez is probably one of the largest suppliers of rabbits in the country. And Brian Bonk is the President and CEO over there. And he has a terrific story about Pel Freez because not only is the rabbit for eating, but they also use it for biological purposes and research. So, it's a two-fold process. Their goal is to make rabbits as widely available as possible for consumption. They also have a whole biological research portion of it as well, so that there is no waste whatsoever with the animals. I thought it was interesting. He's partnered with local restaurants to do some really interesting food pairings with rabbits, including rabbit BBQ and other stuff that I just thought was cool. So, he's done some things in downtown Rogers, and I believe Yeyos and some other great restaurants in the area. It's interesting to hear you mention rabbits because that's become more synonymous here in Northwest Arkansas lately than it was previously.

Erin Rowe [10:25] That's fantastic. I love the fact that we're bringing in that wild game element into our restaurants. I know the first time I went to the Pressroom when they reopened off the Bentonville square. I had a rabbit terrine, and it was fantastic. When you said BBQ, I immediately thought it's got to be Yeyos. And Rafael Rio, he’s a genius.

Randy Wilburn [10:45] He is a genius. Those guys know what they're doing. Tell me, once you did this book, what was the initial reaction you got from people locally?

Erin Rowe [10:57] Many people felt like, oh, this is my grandma's recipe. I had so many people that read the book. At first, I was selling them at the little arts and craft festivals we have here, so they were rifling through the book to see, alright, well, let me see if this is a legit book. Do you have biscuits and chocolate gravy? Do you have this really good cornbread without any sugar in it? Do you have refrigerator pickles? And a lot of people that went to the recipe books---. I just remember one lady specifically tearing up and said this is the recipe I've been looking for my grandma since she passed away because she wrote things down on paper scraps. And of course, like all recipes, people lose them. She's like, thank you for documenting her recipe. I know that it's not just her recipe; it’s a recipe of many grandmothers and many women that cook without writing things down. And that's one reason I wrote the book because if you don't write it down, it disappears when the people pass. And so, I think many people were very encouraging in looking through the book because it brought back a sense of nostalgia and a sense of place. Now for the folks that aren't from here, they're looking at the cover going, we're all meatloaf, is that like the normal thing you guys eat around here? And I was like, no, it's the 2014 World Championship winner. My publishers went wild about it. There are normal recipes in there and not just unusual. You know, cage-free antibiotic-free, healthy meat sources. You can still find a good recipe in there for like a doc or a smoked trout. It's not all just got to be some crazy foods that you usually wouldn't catch out in your yard.

Randy Wilburn [12:34] I love that because you said something that I think many people listening to this would resonate with it. And that is, food has a way to transport us to time and place. For me, like when you were saying I think about all the dishes that my grandmother made, I had a great Aunt Atta that could burn as they say in the kitchen, and everything that she made was just simply divine. But I remember like there were only two recipes of hers that I had. And one is her coleslaw, the other is her chocolate chip cookies, and they were orally given to me. And then I wrote them down, and my wife still has it. When I was courting my wife, I know that's an old-fashioned word, but over 20 years ago, when I was courting my wife before we got married, I took her to Pittsburgh to visit some family. And my aunt showed her how to make that, and she wrote it down, and she still has the handwritten recipe in her Martha Stewart recipe cookbook. But you're right. And she's nailed it with both the coleslaw and the chocolate chip cookies. And every time she makes it, it just transports me back to a child going to visit Pittsburgh, sitting at my Aunt Atta’s table enjoying that coleslaw. And there was just something about the creaminess of the coleslaw, and the freshness of the chopped cabbage and the carrots that took you to a whole other place. And then at the end of it to enjoy those chocolate chip cookies, they were also amazing. There's something about that, so I'm glad that you were able to restore the memory of a lot of people that probably grew up but didn't take the time maybe to memorialize some of those special family heirloom recipes.

Erin Rowe [14:36] I think you're right. I mean, I remember one of my favorite recipes to record was my friend Gail. I spent about four hours in the kitchen drinking sweet tea ultimately with moonshine while she made her homemade cornbread, and she had never measured it. She knows, and I had to keep stopping her along the way, but once you get that cornbread going in the oven, she's like, this brings back memories working on the farm. At the end of writing the book, I had researched and spent so much time interviewing her. She made me a whole farm table dinner, and literally, the table buckled under the weight of all the plates, and it was fantastic. She said that's the way we used to eat growing up; that was just normal. You wouldn't just have meat and three sides of something, you're going to have pie, and you're going to have pickles, and you're going to have like you said, coleslaw or maybe some chowchow of grandma's something like a [inaudible 15:28] and everything goes together flavor-wise, it's good. The fried chicken doesn't even, what do they say good, hot, cold, or three-day-old fried chicken. It doesn't have to be hot right out of the skillet. I like fried chicken at room temperature. With all that stuff, it reminds me of this old-kind of socials and church dinners.

Randy Wilburn [15:48] That is good. And you're right. I love the sweet tea with moonshine, it’s the kind of thing where if it's sweet enough, it almost masks the ever clear or whatever they're using, and you almost don't notice it until it's too late.

Erin Rowe [16:05] That's how it is with moonshine. You want to see the sky if you’re going to have some moonshine sweet tea.

Randy Wilburn [16:12] Put the keys away, there's no driving, you're just going to spend some time on a back porch somewhere telling some stories.

Erin Rowe [16:20] That's right. I think that was my favorite part about writing the book is just learning people's stories. I met so many wonderful people and heard their stories of their families. And I've even got a couple of sad stories in the book. I was going to say, if you wanted me to read a sad story where food has a memory, I'd be happy to read it for you, but maybe we want to keep it only positive.

Randy Wilburn [16:40] I would love for you to share a story that, in your mind, anyone story that you can think of that would give our audience a taste of what is included in your book. And you know what, I'd love for you to do that.

Erin Rowe [17:04] Okay. It's in the Canning and Pickling chapter. It could be in the Apple chapter, it could go either way, but it's a really meaningful story from 1926. I never open a jar of Apple jelly that is clear and red and beautiful that I don't think of my husband, even though it's been over 45 years since his death. On that Thanksgiving morning, we had just finished breakfast, and the family had eaten up the last of the jar of Apple Jelly. And my husband was sitting at the breakfast table holding our baby; we called him CC. And he started pestering me to open up another jar of Apple Jelly. And I told him I wasn't going to do it because there's just one jar left, and if I opened it, there wouldn't be any left for Christmas. He kept on and on the pestering. And finally, he started bouncing CC on his [inaudible 17:49]. CC, tell your mama that she'll have Apple jelly through the rest of her life, but she may not always have you and me. And I told them they were trying to play on my sympathies, and I didn't have a bit of sympathy for either one of them. But I got busy, and I fixed them up to more hot biscuits and opened that jar of Apple Jelly. And I can still see them sitting there enjoying it; the way that baby's face looks so happy over that Apple Jelly. And right after that, the tornado came and took them away from me that very day. And I had been so glad that the rest of my life, I haven't had to live knowing that I hadn't opened that jar of Apple Jelly.

Randy Wilburn [18:22] Oh man, I love that. I think now more so than ever before you want to cherish the time you have with others. And that story is a perfect illustration of that, especially with what we're dealing with as we're recording this. We're still dealing with the pandemic, and there's just a lot of challenges that we're going through. That story captures the very essence of that, and I appreciate you sharing that. That recipe is in the book for the Apple Jelly.

Erin Rowe [18:58] Yeah, I've got a recipe for 30-pint jars. You could make it up and make it for Christmas for everybody.

Randy Wilburn [19:05] I'm glad you mentioned that. What specific town was this person, just out of curiosity?

Erin Rowe [19:11] That was out in Heber Springs.

Randy Wilburn [19:13] And we've had several other people who like black apple cider and a couple of other people on the podcast that have talked about the fact. What people don't realize that are new to this area in Northwest Arkansas is that there used to be a huge amount of apple orchards throughout Arkansas. In addition to this Apple Jelly recipe, did some of those apple orchards inform some of your other recipes in the book by any chance?

Erin Rowe [19:47] Oh, sure. I have a really good recipe for apple cider vinegar in here because Arkansas used to grow most of the nation's apples from the 1890s to the 1920s, which is why these railroad tracks run through the middle of Springdale, leading right up to Frisco stations there because of Rogers shipping off apples. But I've got a whole chapter on Apples. I've got a great recipe, very simple, for apple cider vinegar, [inaudible 20:13], and people used to all the time. I’m from Siloam Springs, and we had an Apple Cider Vinegar processing plant. And of course, you probably know that, right, downtown Springdale, where black Apple crossing is with Leo and boys, there's an apple processing center right there in Springdale what it used to be. I've got a good recipe for apple butter, and that makes about 32 pints for Christmas. Now, if you can get a big copper kettle to do it in, that's even better because that's the way you want to do it. I went out to Cane Mill, Arkansas, which is our earliest settlement, the side of our first college and the first woman graduate, and the little ladies out there that met me for lunch, they gave me their Apple spice cake with black walnut frosting recipe, pretty sure that goes back to the early 1900s. And you have to boil the walnut frosting under the broiler for a sec. And even stacked apple cake, people used to make that. It's like pancakes in layers of cake, maybe 10 or 20 layers flattened stick apples and applesauce between each layer, and then you cut into it. And so those are some old-fashioned recipes that are from that earlier time.

Randy Wilburn [21:26] I keep saying that I'm hoping that we could get more apple orchards coming from New England as I hear about more and more apples in this area. I'm not from there, but that's where I last lived before I moved here. Apple picking this time of year in the fall is very big and going to get cider and apple cider doughnuts, which are amazing. [cross-talking]. I know Leo has talked about that, and they're trying to help see a resurgence of apple orchards. They have a really big mission behind the black apple. Part of the cidery is them being able to encourage more of a proliferation of apple orchards in this area to resurrect what used to be. Because if you're not from here, you have no recollection of that; it’s not a natural thing. When I first heard about it, I was like, there were no apple orchards in Arkansas, but it's absolutely a big deal. It's the same way when I tell people that Arkansas is the largest producer of rice in the world, and people are amazed; they have no idea. The whole downstate area is just one big rice field. We export a lot of rice all over the world, and it comes from the natural state. I'm sure you've got stories for days from this book.

Erin Rowe [23:08] Oh, for four days, which I had to trim down. I remember when I was [inaudible 23:16], Randy, I was literally crying as I took out about three-quarters of my research. So, I put it in a file folder, but I was like, there are so many stories I want to tell when I meet people. And they're like, you should have interviewed me. I will interview you for the next book because you have got some great stories, too. It's funny how many stories come about as a result of food. And as you said, with the apple orchards everywhere, part of the reason we don't see them anymore is that people had to make money, so down with the apple orchards up with the chicken houses. And so, those are right over the pre-existing apple orchards that used to claim to be. It's going to take us a while to bring it back because it takes about 12 years to grow successful apple trees, but I love the efforts.

Randy Wilburn [23:57] I think it's necessary, and I think it's something we should definitely consider doing and being more proactive about it. I would encourage anybody to plant an apple tree and support anybody trying to grow on a larger scale in any area that you're in, in Northwest Arkansas. After the book, and now you have this Ozark Culinary Tour, how did you merge the two, or do the two cross paths?

Erin Rowe [24:36] I think I used my brand that I built around the book to then promote the tour because, by that time, I'd already had a pretty big social media following on Facebook and Instagram to go ahead and continue on that title. So that's why the book title and the tour title are very similar; just kind of makes sense. Plus, Ozark is such a big buzzword right now because of the Ozark show and all the other Ozark things. I'm glad we [inaudible 24:59] with that instead of something different? I think my publisher originally suggested the Ozark Mountains. Not everybody who lives in the Ozarks lives in the mountains themselves, but the tour reflects the book’s heritage at the end of the day. It takes what we're doing in Northwest Arkansas, in the Ozarks, and expansive to the current date. So, I wrote about the history, and I talked about the history when I do a tour, so I'm your guide. And I'll talk about the art history and culture of the area and the food, so I will dabble with the information I researched in the book. It will come into the tour at some point in my talks, as we're going between buildings like, hey, this building used to be on the site where KYYA Chocolate is, for example, on the Bentonville square. The owner of that previous [inaudible 25:46] of many, many years back owned our only movie theater in town, and he got all the money he made from growing wild strawberries, which used to be a big thing in Arkansas. And he used that money to build the theater. And you can still see a ‘Go’ sign of neon or a ‘Go’ sign with strawberries falling out of the basket if you look real closely at the building. So, I will intertwine that history into my tour. I also talk about the future of our cuisine, the last chapter of my book, which is what we embrace on our tour. We're not just eating biscuits and gravy and fried chicken; we might be eating Yeyos, tacos, having some wonderful things in downtown Rogers at the Cuban restaurant. Or, we might be swinging by in Bentonville, might go by [inaudible 26:26] Tori and have some wonderful Italian. So that's the new Ozark cuisine that's evolved. And I like to give some credence or error, a little bit of street cred to that because as we go along, as travelers, we cannot always just rely on only Ozark foods because not every restaurant serves it. But I do like to talk about that as well, so I intertwine both, they kind of interweave together, and I think that's important.

Randy Wilburn [26:51] It is, and I'm glad you mentioned that because it's kind of marrying the two and the way I explain it to all my high-minded friends on both coasts when they talk about why are you living in Northwest Arkansas, and I'm like you don't understand. And I start my conversations with Crystal Bridges, and then I end with all of the amazing restaurants that make up this area. When I think of the Preacher's Son, Matt Cooper, who we've had on this show, I think of the folks at RopeSwing, which Preacher Son is part of that restaurant group, and I just think of all the great restaurants. I mentioned Yeyos. I mean, you talk about really good food. We have James Beard award winners in this area. I also think about James on the Mill, which is now closed. Big shout out to them. But then you have his pizza restaurant, MJs, which is really good pizza right here in Springdale; excellent pizza. Coming from somebody that grew up in the shadows of New York City, it's some of the best pizza that I've had west of the Mississippi. And that's saying something because I've had some good pizzas.

Erin Rowe [28:11] That is saying something. I think Miles James is a great guy. He let me interview him a lot for the book, and we even had pizza at MJs when we did that. He drove me around, and certainly, after that, he had to close the restaurant because MJs is the next place he's going with his franchises in a duplicatable franchise. I think he's a wonderful chef, and he was one of the first chefs we had in Northwest Arkansas. When I went away to Maui, the only good restaurants we had in town that I knew about [inaudible 28:37] Miles James' place; now there's a plethora. And you're right; we’ve got James Beard nominated chef, Matt Makura, we've got like you mentioned the Preacher’s Son, what wonderful food for people that have celiac or gluten-free needs. Love it.

Randy Wilburn [28:53] Matt Cooper is the magician with what he can do. That fried chicken is on a whole other level. [Cross-talking] And, right and just right in my backyard, right in Fayetteville, Hannah Withers with Leverett Lounge. They do a really [cross-talking] they have Korean fried chicken. They have this fried cauliflower that is out of this world. I was just there not too long ago. It was one of the first restaurants that I went to because we've been primarily ordering out. We’ve been using the #save our restaurants by doing a lot of takeouts. But we did finally dine-in, socially distant of course, but we went with another couple and went to Leverett Lounge, and the food was just--- Hannah knows what she's doing. The food and drinks, it's like a combination of the two.

Erin Rowe [29:52] I agree. The environment and atmosphere within Leverett are great. I usually sit under the big peacock with the tail that comes down to the table. I remember the first time I went there, I was like, it's next to a laundromat. What's happening here? And I loved how edgy it was. The vegetarian options on the menu, I was like, I'm just going to order a selection for sides, and they were all incredible.

Randy Wilburn [30:14] And when speaking of vegetarian options, another place I'm going to give a shout out to, and you've probably been there, is the Mockingbird Kitchen, which is Chrissy Sanderson. And she makes these vegan wings with cauliflower, the hot wings, and they're out of this world. Anyway, I’m getting hungry. I got to stop.

Erin Rowe [30:38] I'm getting hungry too. I want her beans, greens, and cornbread recipe that she does. She does a collection of beans and these local Ozark things, and they put them together, almost a hot salad with the greens withered out, and that's usually what I order there. Simple restaurant, chef-owned. I love chef-owned restaurants, and I want to give them support, like you said, whether takeout or going in, if you feel comfortable with it. As far as I'm concerned with my food tours, all the restaurants have been very respectful of the COVID guidelines.

Randy Wilburn [31:11] I'm glad you mentioned that. Are you still during your tours right now, even during the pandemic. How's that going?

Erin Rowe [31:19] Well, I would say I had to cancel a bunch because of a lot of people at the beginning of the pandemic in March. I had 25 tours, actually Randy, but I had to cancel, which was sad. I finally got the ball going, and then COVID happened. The people weren't comfortable at that point, going out to eat. Now people are going back into it, and I have many clients who are picking it back up and so easy because all we do is wear our masks when we get into the restaurant and sit down and the food I've already pre-ordered. It magically arrives within five minutes. And the waters are already on the table, and at that point, you can take your mask off, and everything feels normal. You’re spaced apart from other diners. But that's good for us because they can hear me better, and we can all have our own space. And as long as we usually do ten or fewer people, it falls right in line with COVID guidelines and patio weather. A lot of people dine out. It hasn't impaired the tours other than just people's comfortability in dining out. If people realize we have in Northwest Arkansas the ability, and even outdoor dining base, which we have now in Springdale, where we can adjust and pivot to the new COVID guidelines, we can still enjoy a nice meal out like your wife and your experience.

Randy Wilburn [32:24] I agree 100 percent. I said to somebody how even in Arkansas, I think we've done an outstanding job, even with the governor's guidelines and the health mandates of social distancing when we go out and do those kinds of things. I’ve been to a few other states, and they will just remain nameless, but they don't do such a great job of that. And so, I feel comfortable going into local restaurants because of the seriousness with which they have taken the precautions, the recommendations, and the guidelines. I just need to have the freedom to do whatever I want to do. I wish to make sure that every patron is safe, and I think if every restaurant tour focuses on that, we will be fine. I think everybody that I've spoken to has made a concerted effort to support our local restaurants. I can tell you for a fact, I have friends and family in the New York City area, and they are telling me that restaurants are closing left and right; restaurants that are never going to open again. [Cross-talking] And so, I just want to say to people that I know we're in a little bit of a bubble here in the Ozarks, but I think we're very fortunate about how we're experiencing this. And, let us just keep toeing the line. And I think as things get better as we get a vaccine and things start to open up a little bit more, we will be able to appreciate the efforts that went into trying to preserve what we have. Would you agree with that?

Erin Rowe [34:10] I agree with that. As you said, we need to support our local entrepreneurs, which are many of our chefs and restaurant tours, because America was built by people who build themselves up by their bootstraps. And, in a way, this is the American spirit, this entrepreneurial spirit. Yes, we will probably continue to have big corporations and franchises. Still, it’s these little mom and pop restaurants, these places that are neighborhood establishments you're talking about in New York and even here in the Ozarks that people go to see their friends have a drink. Even the owners are always walking around, making sure everybody's taken care of. Those places make America what it is, whether it's a restaurant or a small business. We need to support those so that we can keep America the way it's been that it encourages the middle class and celebrates ingenuity and creativity. And it also celebrates a business-minded spirit that says I can make something with nothing. I think that's something that we've always been. That kind of spirit doesn't need to die because of COVID. We just have to adjust. And again, you're right; we have to patronize and step out of our comfort zone and adjust the way we order and the way we eat. I was just on a podcast the other day with a lady talking about food sustainability as consumers, not only as people in the restaurant side of things; you have to adjust what you expect. You have to be willing to take a streamlined smaller menu and not be upset about it, but go ahead and support the restaurant anyway because they're doing the best they can.

Randy Wilburn [35:40] I've had several local people with restaurants, including people like Jeremy Golf and others on the podcast. I've just continued to support their efforts in what they're doing. Jeremy has opened up his kitchen for people like Nate Walls from Secondhand Smoke BBQ to come in. And with an organization called Get Shift Done, I say it very quickly, but they have been able to keep a lot of service workers employed in the area by them working with people like Nate, who is feeding a lot of people that are food insecure here in Northwest Arkansas. That's a big issue that has come to light since the pandemic because we've been so successful in so many different ways from an economic standpoint. It took the pandemic to scratch the surface for us to realize that many of us were just one paycheck away from disaster. And Nate and so many other local chefs have taken it upon themselves to make sure that people are being fed, that additional meals are going out. Just looking at that type of neighborly support that we've seen from the restaurant community goes a long way. So, I take every extra dollar that I can to support these guys’ efforts to go to these restaurants and get takeout. Even if I know I can make lunch at home, I will sometimes just buy lunch out because I know it makes a big difference. And I'm not suggesting that anybody go out and spend their last dollar, but certainly, if you have it, spend it and help these folks out. Because a lot of them, what you don't see is what they're doing on the backend, to not only make a lot of the people that work with them taken care of, but they are also feeding people that you know nothing about. And that's one thing that I’m impressed with Northwest Arkansas in general. Listen, I could go on and on and just talk to you so much about this, so give the audience the particulars. We will put a link to the book in the Show Notes, but if people want to sign up for one of your future tours, what's the best way for them to do that?

Erin Rowe [38:20] They can go online to, and honestly, I take a lot of phone calls too because a lot of times when I'm booking food tours these days due to COVID, a lot of people want private tutors. That way, the people on tour they know personally feel comfortable going out with them and being in close proximity at the table. So, the contact number is 479-220-9570.

Randy Wilburn [38:57] You heard it there, folks 479-220-9570. When you call Chef Erin, make sure you tell her I heard about you on the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast, and I want you to sign me up for Culinary Tour, and she'll take good care of you.

Erin Rowe [39:19] Thank you, Randy. I appreciate that.

Randy Wilburn [39:20] I've got to put you on the spot here, and I don't want you to make hard feelings with any of your local chef friends. For people listening to this, if they were coming to the area, let's say they're doing an interview with I don't know how interviews are being done with Walmart or Tyson or JB Hunt, but believe it or not people are listening to this podcast as they contemplate taking jobs in Northwest Arkansas. If they have a chance to visit, where would you say they need to get the best sampling of foods that make this place so special. And I know that's a loaded question but just give us a sampling of maybe one or two or three places that if I was just coming to Northwest Arkansas to visit, you say you got to check it out. Go to these three places, and that will give you a good example of what culinary cuisine is like here in the Ozarks?

Erin Rowe [40:27] Okay, perfect. That would represent typically Ozark cuisine, you're saying?

Randy Wilburn [40:33] Well, not just Ozark cuisine, but only good cuisine in general.

Erin Rowe [40:40] I have high respect for Matthew McClure at The Hive, just because he butchers his animals. He does Southern takes on Ozark and Ozark cuisine, but he also does variations. I feel like that's one of the better places for me that I enjoy eating in Bentonville. The ladies over at Mockingbird Kitchen in Fayetteville are fantastic. We were talking about them earlier. I admire what they do, as far as taking Southern cuisine and creating new things, new concepts with it, and it's a chef-owned restaurant. I respect the fact that you have something that's like locally-owned, going down those roads. This is one that maybe I think will eventually reopen. Sweet Freedom Creamery in the 8th Street Market is owned by a lady named Jessica Keahey, and she does these fantastic cheese tastings and wine pairings. Many people don't know that she does that, and you can actually sit in the restaurant and taste them yourself. And she will do charcuterie boards and pins and accouterments, things like that, that represents this kind of gourmet edge that we're taking on with the change in the restaurant scene. It's the place you can walk up to the counter and order a bunch of cheese to take home with you. And in different Salamis and bread made by a local Baker called Rockin’ Baker, who employs people who have special needs and teaches them a skill on baking. And so, it's a way to kind of keep giving back to the community in so many different ways. But I love doing a cheese tasting there. Those are probably some of my favorite places. I also agree with you on Leverett Lounge; it's fantastic. I would have mentioned that if we hadn't already spoken of it. I admire what she's doing. That’s innovative. It reminds me of Alice Waters from [inaudible 42:34] It's almost like it has a California feel but it's vegetarian and organic and unusual. It's very Fayetteville.

Randy Wilburn [42:44] It is.

Erin Rowe [42:45] I don’t think it’s so hard to find unique culture at Bentonville. And so, I believe each restaurant that I've mentioned sort of represents a little bit more of that culture of each town that is collectively Northwest Arkansas.

Randy Wilburn [42:56] And, you're right, because each city has its flavor, like Bentonville, Rogers, so they're all unique. They all have their DNA, but then there is that collective DNA that makes up the Ozarks, and they're all a part of that, so they almost have this duality of existence. And so, I'm glad you mentioned that because I think people need to understand that you come here, you're coming to the sandwich. The bread is Fayetteville and Bentonville, and Rogers and Springdale are the tomatoes and lettuce and all the other goodness in between; it makes up Northwest Arkansas.

Erin Rowe [43:36] It does, you're correct. We're very much a mixing bowl of people whenever people say which county you live in Northwest Arkansas. I say I’m in Bella Vista, but I travel all the time for work, and I'm always going around. For me, we're all one big happy family, and they're only separated like they're almost like girls on a [inaudible 43:54]. But I feel like Northwest Arkansas just flows over those Ozark mountains. When I think of it, I do not think of individual towns, but only as a collective mentality. And I feel like we're getting to that even more, so maybe even as a blessing of COVID to learn to help each other and live collectively. I see chefs supporting each other. I'm on a Facebook group called NWA COVID-19 chess collaborative. So, when I have a gig that I can't take, I can refer it to other chefs and let them pick it up. When I worked with Dan [inaudible 44:22] and [inaudible 44:23] Chevrolet, you talk about people doing good things, Dan decided he wanted to support essential workers at the same time support restaurants and chefs. So, he asked me to compile a list of restaurants and chefs doing amazing food that would take out or carry out. He bought the food himself, delivered it in one of his cars from the lot, to people at daycares and firemen and nurses doing essential work through COVID and then that [disruption in audio] celebrated with his money just as a volunteer thing, Northwest Arkansas supporters.

Randy Wilburn [45:04] I think that's a great story. And you know, Dan is not alone. And, being a successful entrepreneur in this area that has really taken it upon himself to spread the love, if you will.

Erin Rowe [45:18] Yeah, it will. It will spread the love in a really sweet truck.

Randy Wilburn [45:22] There you go. So, we've gotten how everybody can get in touch with you. They can visit, and that is tours with an ‘s’. Make sure that you tell Chef Erin that you heard about her right here on I am Northwest Arkansas. And then the cell is 479-220-9570. Give her a call if you have any questions. You can check out the website. I certainly want to encourage you to get the book. You can get it on her website. It's also available on So, I want to encourage you to support her in any way that you can. And whether it's reading the book, and maybe once you get the book, then you go on one of her culinary tours. And if you're not from this area, and you come down here, you need to see about scheduling something in advance so that you can be part of one of her tours. I am pretty sure she will send you over the edge with your decision-making about moving to the Ozarks. Is that a deal?

Erin Rowe [46:34] That's a deal, Randy, that sounds great. And I also forgot to mention my mom on Instagram and Facebook under this [inaudible 46:40]. I think it's a great little way to get acquainted.

Randy Wilburn [46:45] We will put it all in the Show Notes so that everybody has that. And chef Erin, thank you so much for just taking time out of your busy schedule and meeting with our people here on the podcast. We really appreciate it. We want to continue to encourage everything you're doing here in Northwest Arkansas, and we look forward to connecting with you again to tell the next chapter of this story. So, keep up the great work.

Erin Rowe [47:14] Thank you, Randy. And keep up the great work yourself. It's a real honor to be on your show. And thank you so much for supporting all of us here in Northwest Arkansas. They're trying to make it great,

Randy Wilburn [47:23] I appreciate it. Well, there you have it, folks, another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I hope you like Chef Erin Rowe and what she had to share. I don't know about you guys, but I am really hungry right now. And I'm going to do two things today. One is I know it's Amazon Prime Day, the day that we're recording this, so I'm going to go order her book. Two, I'm going to figure out how soon in the near future, I can schedule a culinary tour and take advantage of some of the things I'm already aware of. She could probably teach me a few more things to learn about the food scene here in Northwest Arkansas. I want to encourage you to support her in any way that you can. Again, we appreciate you taking the time to listen to everything that she's doing and everything happening here in the Ozarks. As always, you can find our show wherever great podcasts can be found. And we would encourage you to write a review if you can. Let us know what you think about the podcast. If you know someone you think would be a good fit to come on the show in the future, we would encourage you to do that. And we would just love to have you participate in anything that we're doing here in Northwest Arkansas. So that's all we have for this week. As you know, our podcast comes out every week and, there's so much that you can learn about what we're doing. We just want to encourage you to download this podcast, share it with a friend. And certainly, we wouldn't be remiss if we didn't give a shout out to all of our sponsors for the podcast. The exclusive Real Estate Group with Chris Dinwiddie does an amazing job here locally. You can give Chris a call at 479-305-0468. You can also check him out at the exclusive Real Estate Group online, and his information is in our Show Notes. Finally, for those of you out there trying to build your perfect business, you should check out Next Level Seven. I've worked with these guys for a couple of years now, and Brian Clark, who is the founder of Next Level Seven, has built not one but two eight-figure businesses from scratch and sold them. Hence, we use Brian's training here at I am Northwest Arkansas, and it has truly transformed how we do business. You can get a copy of his free course today. The link is in the Show Notes, and I would encourage you to check it out. It doesn't cost you a dime. And I think Brian could help many people with their business take it to another level. So, I encourage you to check out Next Level Seven when you have a chance. All of this can be found online at Listen, we appreciate you guys and that's all we have for this week. We will see you next week. Peace.

TZL Open [50:38] We hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Check us out each and every week, available anywhere that great podcasts can be found. For Show Notes or more information on becoming a guest, visit We will see you next week on I am Northwest Arkansas.

This episode is sponsored by*:

The Exclusive Real Estate Group – Serving all of Northwest Arkansas from Dickson St. to Bentonville Square, Broker Chris Dinwiddie, and his agents are ready to provide first-class representation for any of your real estate needs. 

Chris’ team has expanded to include in house designers and architects.  They can facilitate everything from design services to turnkey new construction.  Click Here to contact them, and be sure to mention that you heard about them from IANWA. 

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