Chef Matthew Bell hails from Montana, but after about a decade in the South, he felt confident to head the kitchen at South on Main restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas. It’s a collaboration with the Oxford American, the magazine that chronicles the literary and cultural life of the South and is often called the ”New Yorker of the South.”
”We are taking our cue from the magazine and keying in on the cuisine from all regions,” Bell told a gathering of writers who previewed the restaurant and performance place while it was still under construction. ”Arkansas cuisine is a microcosm of the whole South with influence from the Ozarks and the Smokies,” he said. ”We have a long growing season and close access to the Gulf for seafood.”
Now open for business, Bell is offering updated versions of classic dishes, such as a starter of pork cheeks with gnocchi, parmesan, and a fried egg, or a main course of catfish with fried brussels sprouts, hushpuppies, and rémoulade. But for my small group he proved his chops with a masterful version of the Southern staple Pimento Cheese. I like to serve the colorful dip during the holidays — all you need are some celery sticks and a few crackers.
To add heat, chef Matthew Bell favors Frank’s Red Hot Sauce or Crystal Louisiana’s Pure Hot Sauce. Since I had neither on hand, I used traditional red Tabasco from Louisiana’s McIlhenny Company.
1/2 roasted red pepper, peeled and seeded and finely chopped
1/2 pound grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon finely grated garlic
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons pickle brine from your favorite dill pickles
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
pinch of salt and black pepper to taste
Using a strong wooden spoon and a bowl, combine all ingredients in order, stirring well after each addition. Pack into small bowl or ramekin and serve with celery sticks or crackers.