Announcements and publicity associated with the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame

2020 Proprietor of the Year Finalists

By Andrew Vogler, Arkansas Heritage 

The Arkansas Food Hall of Fame’s Proprietor of the Year award is presented to a chef, cook and/or restaurant owner in Arkansas who has made significant achievements in the food industry.

Peter Brave of Brave New Restaurant - Little Rock (Pulaski County)

Peter Brave is a bit of a contrarian — it’s just his way and possibly a key to his success. Most chefs would probably tell you that going to culinary school is a critical step in making it in the hyper-competitive world of fine cuisine, and that was initially Peter’s plan. However, after arriving in San Francisco in the early 1980s, the Little Rock native decided to have a go at working in the trenches of Bay Area restaurants, learning the craft at its source.

In 1985, Peter returned to Little Rock, landing at the Capital Hotel where he worked as a chef, taking Arkansans’ temperature for upscale dining. There weren’t too many high-end restaurants in Little Rock during this time, so there was no assurance that there was a market for another. This didn’t deter Peter. In 1991, he opened Brave New Restaurant at its original location off Old Cantrell Road. When he was on the lookout for a new location, Peter had no issue of breaking the golden rule of visibility, deciding to setup in a commercial building tucked away in the Riverdale community. He knew that if you offer people “delicious food and excellent service,” they will find you.

It’s this unorthodox approach that has kept Peter Brave at the forefront of Little Rock’s culinary scene and has kept Brave New Restaurant going for close to 30 years.

Matthew McClure of The Hive - Bentonville (Benton County)

Matthew McClure’s journey in cuisine can be summed up as his search to identify the essence of Arkansas cooking. Trained at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, the Little Rock native decided to stay in New England to hone his  skills, working in several Boston, but he always had an eye for a return to Arkansas to continue this search.

Matt has proven that he has great timing, always recognizing where he needs to be to advance his skills. His return to Arkansas came at a time when Little Rock and North Little Rock’s downtown areas were in the midst of a resurgence, working as a chef at Ristorante Capeo and Ashley’s (formally of the Capital Hotel). In 2012, Matt’s talents took him to Bentonville, which was in the beginnings of a cultural explosion, accompanied by a demand for good food.

As the executive chef of The Hive, located in the 21c Museum Hotel, Matt has developed a “High South” menu with a distinct Arkansas identity. Plenty of people have taken notice. Since 2014, Matt has been considered for the James Beard Foundation award for best chef in the South; a tremendous honor considering his youth and the massive amount of competition in the food-crazed South.

Matt can tell you himself if he’s gotten closer to identifying what’s Arkansas’s food identity, but something tells us that he’s just getting started.

Sami Lal of Star of India - Little Rock (Pulaski County)

 Sami Lal's food journey has literally taken him all over the world and it all b egan in the Punjab province of northern India. It was there that Sami learned to cook in his mother’s kitchen  — probably the best way to understanding the complex recipes of authentic Northern Indian cuisine. 

Sami's desire to introduce people to this cooking led him to leave India to work in the restaurant industry aborad. It was in West Germany where he cut his teeth, learning the craft of European cuisine. Sami’s next stop was Texas where he worked in Dallas restaurants, sharpening his skills as a chef. However, the goal was to always open his own restaurant where he’d prepare the same food that was served in his mother’s kitchen. For Sami, Little Rock was an excellent opportunity to introduce people to his vision of Indian food and he made the move, opening Star of India in 1993, a restaurant that would become one of the most popular in central Arkansas.

The buzz around Star of India is one of amazingly flavorful food accompanied by great service; the buzz around Sami Lal is of a person who never forgets a face and, after all these years, is still dedicated to making sure that his customers have the best experience possible.

Scott McGehee of Yellow Rocket Concepts - Little Rock (Pulaski County)

The impact that Scott McGehee has had on Little Rock’s restaurant scene is immense and any serious foodie in Arkansas has probably been to one of his restaurants. In the context of his life, it would be hard to be believe that his family didn't play an important role in him eventually becoming one of Arkansas’s most successful restaurateurs. His great-grandmother, Ruby Thomas Collier, ran the Red Apple Inn in Heber Springs, and her sister, Mazie Collier, was a restauranteur in Little Rock’s Heights neighborhood. More immediate to him, Scott’s father, Frank McGehee, was part of the group that ran the famed Juanita’s.

After learning his craft in California’s Bay Area, Scott returned to Little Rock and opened Boulevard Bread Company, one of the first restaurants in Arkansas to embrace farm to table methods. After Scott sold Boulevard in 2009, he went on a sprint of opening various restaurant concepts that include ZaZa’s, Big Orange, Local Lime and Heights Taco & Tamale Co. Somehow during this period, he also managed to open Arkansas’s largest brewery, Lost Forty Brewing. This restaurant group, dubbed Yellow Rocket Concepts, also boasts restaurant locations in Conway and northwest Arkansas.

You’d think that Scott would be satisfied with the success of his restaurants. Nope. He shows no signs of slowing down, always keeping people guessing on what Yellow Rocket Concepts is going to do next.

Capi Peck of Trio’s Restaurant - Little Rock (Pulaski County)

It’s probably not hard for Capi Peck to see the unique perspective she possesses. Growing up in Little Rock for most of her life, Capi has witnessed a lot of change in the city. The Granddaughter of Sam and Henryetta Peck, she grew up in an environment of hospitality, as she watched her family serve guests at the Sam Peck Hotel. She would get a taste for cooking too, learning family recipes in the hotel’s restaurant. It would be these dishes that would be the basis for her menu at Trio’s Restaurant, which she opened in 1986

If there is a secret to her success, it might have a do with her values. The importance of family has been an important theme in Capi’s life and is something she has instilled at Trio’s, as the restaurant’s staff are as close as siblings, with many of them working there for decades. Service is also an important theme for Capi, as she also serves Little Rock beyond the kitchen, acting as a city director and being a part of several Arkansas nonprofit organizations.

In reality, Capi Peck’s impact on Little Rock transcends food, but the city is certainly lucky to have such an ardent servant, in and out of the kitchen.

The winner of the Proprietor of the Year category, along with the four other categories, will be announced at the 2020 Arkansas Food Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Monday, Feb. 24, at Ron Robinson Theater in downtown Little Rock. Tickets can be purchased here.