Review: Youth Home’s Next Course Event

I’ve always heard of, and drooled over, the event “Next Course” that Youth Home has put on the past few years. (This year was their seventh year.) From previous pictures, I knew this event was elegant and full of fantastic foods created from AR’s best chefs. It is a charity event, so tickets are not cheap.  That is the main reason I haven’t been to one of these annual events yet.

Luckily, this year, I got to be a guest with my sis-in-law and best friend, Lori! I couldn’t believe it! I was absolutely ecstatic!

So, from a newbie’s perspective, here’s how the night went:

6:00-7:00 p.m.

The event was held at Ben E. Keith Foods Mid-South. I’ve never been to this location and was surprised by its size. It is very large! By the time Lori and I pulled up at about 6:10, the parking lot was already full. (We’ll learn later that most of those cars were people working the event.)

We went in the front doors, checked in,  and were given bid cards to hold up for auctions that would be happening throughout the dinner. We were then told to enjoy the food and many drink options available until the first dish was served at our table at 7:00.

There were already plenty of people in the crowded front room. Here you could find two tables of meat trays, fresh bread, “fire” crackers, and different cheeses to snack on.  There was a table for wines, a table for beers, and a table for gin cocktails….all unlimited. There were also a few tall, small round tables to set drinks on and socialize.

My main focus here was to not eat or drink too much before getting to the actual event, so I tried a couple of snacks. The boudin was the best, alongside the “fire” crackers and the bread provided, and baked fresh, by Ben E. Keith Foods. Not gonna lie….I wish I had a to-go bag for some of that bread. It was buttery perfection.

7:00-9:00 p.m

Promptly at 7:00, the dining room doors opened and we were told to find our tables. We were at table 4, close to the stage. The room was BEAUTIFUL.

Our table was absolutely lovely. Purples and golds decorated it entirely. At each setting, there was a different wine glass for each wine pairing we would get, as well as a utensil for each dish, obviously….I am not used to this sort of fanciness! Also, a menu, plus a recipe book holding each of the night’s recipes was readily on the table. Perfect!

***I apologize for having NO IDEA which wines were served with each plate. I had to skip on most of those, since there was more alcohol offered than food and I had to drive home. So, if wine is your thing, know that you get unlimited wine throughout the entire night.  There are five different wines offered: one paired with each dish. However, you could ask for any of the wines at any time. This may be an event to Uber/Lyft to and from to fully enjoy. =)

Our first dish was already plated when we seated: Char Sui Pork Belly with Quick Kimchi and a Seared Tamaki Rice Cake by Jordan Davis- Executive Chef at Chenal Country Club.

Before we could/should dig in, Jordan Davis, the chef of this dish, came to the stage and talked a little bit about it. He specifically mentions how simple and “fool-proof” the dish is. However, it is two full pages in the recipe page….so, his “simple” may not be my “simple”.

Anyway, the pork belly was cooked perfectly, melt-in-your-mouth. The kimchi gave it a perfect balance. The rice cake was good, but I feel like it took some of the flavor away. So, I enjoyed my second, and last, bite without it.

The second course was a Roasted Beet Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette with a Goat Cheese Mousse by Shanna Merriweather, the executive Chef at Trio’s Restaurant.

As Shanna talked about her dish on stage, Capi Peck (owner of Trio’s) endearingly cheered her on from the sideline. They were a lot of fun.

Even though I had to give my goat cheese mousse to Lori, the salad was still delicious. I love arugula, which was the base. The roasted beets were sweet and delicious, with toasted sunflower seeds, and the simple, yet flavorful vinaigrette.

The third dish was Black Rice Crusted Fish and Chips and Malt Vinegar Mayonnaise and Dried Peas by Scott Rains, the Executive Chef at Table 28.

This dish was so unique and so tasty! The fish was perfectly cooked. It was flaky and tender inside while crispy, without being greasy, on the outside. The chips, though, were probably the star of the show. Simple, but done perfectly. The malt vinegar mayonnaise was a wonderful, flavorful sauce for them. The arugula they all laid atop was a nice addition. My only issue with this dish dealt with the dried peas. While I understand mushed peas accompany fish and chips a lot in the U.K., these didn’t have any flavor and seemed like a lot of work for no real addition to the dish. If that is too harsh and you loved them, please comment and let me know. I just didn’t appreciate that one aspect. The rest was amazing!

Our next “dish” was not listed on the menu. I assume it was to serve as a palate cleanser. It was a slaw covered with a marinated scallop. This bite was vinegary, fresh, tender, delicious! It reminded of amazing sashimi, without the rice. I loved it!

Our “main” dish was Stuffed Quail with Cajun Crawfish Stuffing by Jamie McAfee CEC, the Executive Chef at Pine Bluff Country Club.

This was my favorite dish. I believe it was a very buttery rice everything sat on top of, that soaked up all of the sauce and flavor and was just divine. The quail was tender and flavorful. The stuffing was even better. The sauce to top it all was cajun heaven. I loved it. The fried okra was a little under-fried for me, so was a bit soggy, so I didn’t devour like as I did the rest of the plate.

The final dish was a Sweet Potato Pie Napolean by Cynthia Malik, the Executive Chef at Tacos 4 Life.

I was not looking forward to a sweet potato pie, honestly. But I LOVED this light version of the dessert. It was more like a deconstructed pie. There was a small sweet potato pie filling as the base, with apples, toasted almonds, small bits of crust “cookies”, whipped cream, and plenty of spices to make this a very delicious dessert. I thought it was a great way to end a slightly-heavy meal.

OVERALL

This event was so fun. While it was loud for most of the time because people were enjoying themselves, we also got to hear from each of the chefs, which was very special. The staff was incredible. In fact, there was almost as many staff manning the event as there were patrons. The professionalism and fluidity of them bringing each dish out all at once was impressive. The servers who watched our wines and waters were always present. Everyone had a wonderful time.  I am so thankful to have attended this wonderful event!

Recipe: Hearty Chili….psst….don’t tell anyone it is vegan.

I entered a chili contest at my Dad’s church, here is southern Arkansas, to raise funds for a mission trip- one that happens to be going where my sister, Kelsey, lives as a full-time missionary. So, this would be an amazing trip to help not only the school they work out and the children, but Kelsey and other missionaries there.
My dad was entering as well, and I know he is a great cook, but we are very competitive. So, I was going to make a chili so unique and so delicious that there was no way it wouldn’t win.
When I told my dad I was making it vegan (honestly because one of the most flavorful “meats” I have tasted have been a vegan “chorizo” and I thought that would be perfect in a chili!) he laughed and said no one at his church would like a vegan chili.
Well, I’m stubborn and did it anyway and it turned out great. It was not only one of the best chilis I have ever had, it also would fool any meat eater.

Needless to say, my dad was right. I heard so many people make comments like “If there isn’t meat in it, it isn’t chili” and “This one is great! Oh wait, what? Vegan? Gross!”. Or my favorite “I don’t care what’s in it, it is delicious!”.
My dad won first place, but to be fair, his chili was delicious! Just like I like it, so it was a well deserved win.

Though, I still had questions about what meat substitute I used and the recipe, so here it is, my losing vegan chili. =)

Ingredients

-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-3 Field Roast Mexican Chipotle “sausages” (vegetarian)
-2 bags Boca Veggie Crumbles
-1 red bell pepper, chopped
-1 orange bell pepper, chopped
-2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
-1 large yellow onion, chopped
-8 ounces diced green chiles
-6 cloves garlic (6 tablespoons minced)
-1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons salt
-2 bay leaves
-1 teaspoon cayenne powder
-1 teaspoon smoked paprika
-1 tablespoon cumin
-2 tablespoons chili powder
-1 teaspoon oregano
-4 tablespoons brown sugar
-1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar
-2 tablespoons Worcestershire
-2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
-1/2 cup 60%, or darker, dark chocolate chunks (I used Private
Selection)
-2 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
-1 can regular beer (not dark, not light)
-1/2 cup vegetable broth
-3 tablespoons masa
-1 can chili hot beans, drained, but not rinsed
-1 can dark red kidney beans, rinsed.
-1 can black beans, rinsed.

Directions

1.  Open and break up the chipotle “sausages” to resemble ground
meat.
2. In a medium-high heated pan, with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive
oil, add the veggie sausages, veggie meat crumbles,  the chopped bell
peppers, jalapeños, dices green chiles, and onion. and sear until browned.
3. Add the minced garlic for only a couple minutes while everything
else is browning- garlic will burn easily.
4. Add all your seasonings and herbs and liquids: salt, bay leaves,
cayenne powder, smoked paprika, cumin, chili powder, oregano,
brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire, soy sauce or
tamari, and dark chocolate. Then, adding your crushed tomatoes
and beer.
5. In a separate cup, mix your veggie broth with the masa and add to
the chili. (This thickens the chili and gives a slight hint of corn flavor.
If you like runnier chili, feel free to leave this step out.)  Stir well and
bring to a simmer. Then, lower heat to medium low, cover, and let sit,
stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes- 1 hour. You can go longer, if you
prefer it to break down even more.
6. At least 15 minutes before you serve, put your beans in. Feel free to
use any canned beans you like, I liked the variety. And drain any kind
except 1 can of chili hot beans- this gives the chili good flavor, imho.
You can add them earlier if you don’t mind them a little softer.
7. Always taste for any extra needed salt or spicy to make the chili
taste just the way you like. Add whatever toppings you prefer
(cilantro tastes great with this one) and enjoy!

Overall, the event was super fun with a great band, tons of chili and all the fixins and then more delicious desserts than I could eat.  Good money was raised for a good cause and everyone had a great time. Good times!