"I've had some of the best Indian food of my life there," Matt McClure says of Bentonville, the tenth largest city in Arkansas.
He's serious. Turns out this piece of the Ozarks has a large Indian population. McClure has taken full advantage, eating and shopping at the resultant restaurants and grocery stores, searching piecemeal for inspiration.
"It's not what you think of when you think Arkansas, but that's what Bentonville is right now."
Bentonville is also home to Walmart headquarters, as well as Crystal Bridges, the major new American art museum built by Alice Walton.
Make Matt McClure's Indian-spiced roast chicken
McClure grew up in Little Rock but went north for culinary school in Vermont, then honed his chops at some of Boston's best restaurants, including No. 9 Park and Harvest.
McClure was lured back to Bentonville by the opening of the boutique 21c Museum Hotel. The Hive, his restaurant there, has a menu of refined Southern food, inspired by what the chef found on returning home.
"When I left, I was wet behind the ears," says McClure. "What I saw when I came back at my first farmer's market left me crazy impressed. A dozen different field peas, collards, the best figs you've had in your life."
The culinary scene is evolving, he says. "People from different cultures are coming in. I'm trying to take a snapshot of that and marry it with the older traditions."
The spices and seasonings
We got a glimpse of exactly what he meant recently, with one of his McClure gastronomic snapshots: garam masala roasted chicken with bread and butter cabbage (see the recipe). It was a tandoor-meets-country pantry epiphany.
"I love the dimension garam masala adds," McClure says of the warming mix of cinnamon, coriander seeds and fennel.
We particularly loved the sweet-tart cabbage he served with the spiced chicken. "Bread and butter pickles are such an iconic staple," says McClure. "I thought: why not add that flavor profile to cabbage--and throw some bacon in?"
"Food can be better here than anywhere else in the country," swears McClure "There's just something in the dirt."