The annual Soup Sunday event is a local favorite for two reasons: 1) it serves up a dozen delicious soups from area restaurants, and 2) it supports Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families' mission to ensure "all children have the resources and opportunities they need to lead healthy, productive lives and to reach their full potential."
This year's event is set for April 10 (rescheduled from Feb. 27) at The Venue at Westwind, which has lots of space for social distancing, including outdoor seating.
We caught up with Jonathan Arrington, head chef at The Root Café and one of the featured chefs for this year's Soup Sunday, to learn more about his life in the kitchen and get the scoop on his special recipe.
How did you get your start as a chef?
JA: I got my start as a cook at Bella Italia. I was a dishwasher there and had the opportunity to begin working in the kitchen after one of the cooks quit. I had never considered a career in the kitchen, but I got the bug right away. A couple years down the road, a friend of mine from Bella Italia, Wally Redd, was working as the sous chef at Ristorante Capeo, and he got me a job there. I remember it was while working there that I decided to fully pursue cooking.
What was the first dish you felt like you mastered?
JA: One dish I felt very comfortable cooking early on is risotto. At Capeo, risotto was served with the osso buco and could also be ordered a la carte with ingredients chosen by the chef or the guest. The cool thing there was that all the risotto was cooked in the moment, from the dry rice to the finished dish. We got a lot of practice cooking risotto.
What's your favorite thing on the menu right now at The Root and its sister restaurant Mockingbird Bar & Tacos?
JA: The Rabbit Ridge Farms fried chicken with berbere spice that we serve at The Root is really good. I also really like our mushroom burger with shiitakes from Plethora Fungi. At Mockingbird, we serve a smoked carrot taco with cilantro and peanut pesto using carrots from Five Acre Farms that is super good. And the cheeseburger shouldn't be slept on — Legacy Farm beef with melty cheese, pickled veggie relish, charred onion mayo and lettuce we get from The Nurserie.
How has the Little Rock food scene shaped your choices in the kitchen?
JA: I think the diners that we serve at the two restaurants are pretty open to trying new things. A lot of what we do is dictated by the ingredients that are available to us.
The Root is known for its dedication to Arkansas farms, products and causes. Why is that kind of community engagement important for local businesses?
JA: I love being able to source local because we are able to use a fresher, higher quality product that is being produced very nearby.
Tell us about your featured dish for this year's Soup Sunday and where the inspiration came from.
JA: We will be serving the soup we have had on feature this winter, pumpkin pie soup. We started making it back around Thanksgiving. We use butternut squash from Armstead Mountain Farm and season it with a lot of ginger and some nutmeg and cinnamon. We try to make our soups vegan, and this one is if you leave off the ganrish. The soup is made with coconut milk so it picks up some sweetness there along with maple syrup and brown sugar. For garnish we make some whipped cream with sherry vinegar folded in at the end.