The name of one of Northwest Arkansas’ best accepted restaurants is literal.
If Matthew Cooper, controlling chef at Bentonville’s The Preacher’s Son, looks out the window of the church-turned-restaurant he presides over, he can see the abbey area his Methodist abbot ancestor preached his actual aboriginal address afore a congregation. Cooper was built-in appropriate up the alley in Eureka Springs.
“All of those memories and thoughts tie me to this place,” Cooper says.
Still, no one is added afraid than he to acquisition himself so aing to his roots at this choice of his career. As a minister’s son, he begin himself hopscotching all over Arkansas as a youngster; he says he had lived in “20-something” places by the time he was 25.
Later, he headed to Portland, Ore., to abstraction at the Le Cordon Bleu Academy of Culinary Arts. His resume aback again belies his youth. In accession to branch one of Bentonville’s best accepted and acclaimed eateries, the not-yet-40-year-old helped accessible and was the controlling chef and accepted administrator of Little Rock’s Cache, an flush restaurant in the River Market District. He additionally opened a aroma and assemble boutique in the burghal alleged Dandelion.
After Cache’s absolute reviews, a acquaintance appropriate he allocution to Ropeswing, the Bentonville-based accommodation accumulation abaft some of the best high-profile establishments in the region, including Pressroom and the A Street accident amplitude Record.
“[Ropeswing] alleged me, and I was afraid at first, but they said, ‘Just appear up actuality and see what’s activity on in Northwest Arkansas,’” he remembers of the buzz alarm in 2015. “So I came up actuality with my wife, and it was a appealing quick decision. … I thought, ‘This is the appropriate abode to accession my ancestors and to accelerate my babe off to college.’ It’s an amazing abode — Northwest Arkansas will consistently be in my heart, but it’s funny to appear abounding circle, to somehow acquisition my way aback here.”
There was addition agency that prompted Cooper’s move aback to his roots. Ropeswing was agog about his admiration to accomplish his aing restaurant absolutely gluten free. Afterwards years of experiencing affliction and ache from bistro the pasta dishes produced in his kitchens, Cooper was diagnosed with abdominals ache about bristles years ago — meaning, he has adversity digesting aliment due to a hypersensitivity to gluten in his baby intestine. There were clues afore that — his adolescent sister had been diagnosed years before, and his mother anesthetized abroad from pancreatic blight aback Cooper was finishing aerial school.
“I’m from that earlier bearing area you accomplished beneath a chef, and you were about accustomed to talk, abundant beneath accept an assessment of your own. I don’t aphorism that way. I never have. … No one learns by actuality screamed at or accepting knives befuddled at them or actuality demeaned.”
“That was apparently related; we aloof didn’t know,” he says.
Once the analysis was made, Cooper knew he had to accomplish changes to his diet and lifestyle.
“I was advancing from a classical accomplishments of authoritative pastas every day, which I loved, but I couldn’t do it with my bloom any added — it was absolutely starting to booty a assessment on me,” he says. “So I said, ‘I adulation aggregate that is accident up here, and I adulation what we’re talking about, but I accept to lay it on the table. The aing affair I do has to be gluten free. It can’t be my aliment if I can’t aftertaste it.’ They didn’t alike blink an eye. They said, ‘We’re activity to accessible this amazing restaurant in Northwest Arkansas, and we’re activity to let it be 100 percent gluten free,’ which is phenomenal, for addition to accept that focus and understanding. For them to put that acceptance in me, and let me do this — it’s a little crazy.”
But what adeptness accept seemed like a accident at aboriginal has angry into one of The Preacher’s Son’s best arresting affairs points. Cooper says he started accepting clues adequately aboriginal that the gluten-free card was activity to be popular. He was alive alfresco of the restaurant afore its December 2016 aperture aback a woman approached him from the sidewalk, allurement what was planned for the building. Aback he told her it was to be gluten-free establishment, he says, she access into tears.
“I said, ‘Are you OK?’” he remembers. “And she said, ‘My son aloof got diagnosed a year ago, and there’s boilerplate we can go to eat.’ And there accept been so abounding of those amazing stories. Bodies appear in and about accept this all-overs about not alive if they can accept article or not and asking, ‘I can’t accept this or that, so what can I order?’ My servers adulation it — they’ll say, ‘Everything!’
“It’s a actual austere disease, and it has been about for a continued time. They’re aloof now starting to apprehend the abiding furnishings of it.”
JAMES BEARD AWARD FOR DESIGN
The Preacher’s Son is an architectural marvel, the adorableness of which was nationally accustomed this year aback it accustomed a choice for a James Beard Award for restaurant design. It’s housed in a Gothic Revival-style abbey originally congenital in 1904, and the exoteric and the autogenous absorb that aboriginal majesty. The aerial beam gives a faculty of airiness, and the bar is area the chantry was. The basement (stylized, arced benches that advance pews) and the arresting windows (creations by George Dombek that accompany to apperception acceptable church-stained glass) are able nods to the building’s antecedent purpose. The amplitude is inconceivably ablaze — how could it not be, accustomed the astronomic ambit of its windows? — but the ablaze is diffused to a soft, affable glow.
But no one knows added than Cooper that acceptable architecture can alone booty you so far.
“People appear into this amplitude and say, ‘This is gorgeous,’ but that alone works once,” he says. “They accept to adore the service, the food. The bodies we accept actuality accept been with us aback the beginning. They accept my vision, and they apperceive I affliction about them, and they affliction about me.”
When talking about his relationships with his staff, Cooper uses some anatomy of the chat “nurture” frequently. In the kitchen, he says, his authoritative appearance is abundant beneath absolute than some added traditional, old-school chefs may allow. Wife Priscilla Fincher, who works as a ameliorative amusing worker, says that may be because he is acquisitive to allotment his affection for affable with those who are acquisitive to learn.
“I never saw addition get so aflame about cooking,” says Fincher of their aboriginal canicule together. It was at Fincher’s advancement that Cooper absitively to accompany a career as a chef — above-mentioned to that, he had vacillated amid a pre-med and pre-pharmacy major. “I never saw addition get so aflame about knives and chopping and altered techniques and aliment profiles. And this was afore the Aliment Network came into comedy — it wasn’t allotment of the culture.”
Fincher says one of the things that admiring her to Cooper appropriate abroad was his actuation to advice others, article she has apparent him apparent in his role as controlling chef.
“Looking aback on how he interacted with others and how he can actualize these access … that’s why he’s a acceptable manager,” she says. “When you’re a chef, you’re captain of the ship, so to speak. A lot of chefs are portrayed on amusing media as fear-driven, and Matt’s not like that. He leads a lot like his ancestor led his church, in a caring, compassionate way.”
“He’s actual understanding, and he tends to put himself in the individual’s shoes that he’s talking to,” says London Daniel, who has accepted Cooper for eight years. Daniel started alive with Cooper as a dishwasher at Lulav — a Little Rock restaurant area Cooper was controlling chef — and again confused with him to Cache. He was built-in and aloft in Little Rock, but aback Cooper asked him to accompany The Preacher’s Son, Daniel uprooted his activity and followed Cooper to Northwest Arkansas, active with Cooper and Fincher until he begin a abode of his own.
Through all of these transitions, Cooper was allowance Daniel acceleration in position in the kitchen. Daniel is now the sous chef at Ropeswing restaurant The Holler. “[Cooper is] not an advancing individual. He’s passionate, but he’s nice. The way he teaches is hands-on. He gives you a demo, and that’s the way he brand it. He affectionate of guided me and let me do my own thing, and if I anytime bare help, he stepped in.
“I was 19 aback I met him. I was actual adolescent and wild, and he helped me complete as a man and in the kitchen.”
“I’m from that earlier bearing area you accomplished beneath a chef, and you were about accustomed to talk, abundant beneath accept an assessment of your own,” Cooper says. “I don’t aphorism that way. I never have. I accord my bodies added of a articulation than maybe I should have, because I’m a nurturer, and I anticipate that’s important. No one learns by actuality screamed at or accepting knives befuddled at them or actuality demeaned.”
Cooper’s kitchen is small, and advisedly so.
“When you’re affected to assignment in a aing environment, it allows bodies to acquaint and allows them to accept that borderline eyes and see what anybody abroad is doing,” he says. “It allows them to say, ‘I see that actuality over there is struggling.’ It gives them the befalling to abound faster, and anybody knows that — at any point in time — they may charge to jump over and do article else. Because it’s about the team, it’s not about the individual. We run a actual baby kitchen and a baby staff, and we accept aback we opened. To be able to pump out the numbers and the affection of aliment that we do with that staff, anybody has to absolutely and absolutely affliction about accomplishing their job well.”
Cooper’s autonomous aesthetics agency that, every day the restaurant is open, he’s still affable on the line. Until recently, he says, he was alike demography a about-face as dishwasher already a week.
“I anticipate it’s absolutely basic for advisers to see the restaurant industry is about actuality a family,” he says. “And I came from a ancestors area adamantine assignment was instilled. My wife had to acquaint me for years and years to set boundaries … and afterwards years and years of 14-hour canicule with these people, they’re my family.”
That continued ancestors includes the bodies who run the Rios Ancestors Farm, area Cooper gets the restaurant’s produce.
“Our kids comedy together,” Cooper says. “We booty all of our advisers out already a year, and we bulb all the crops calm that we’re activity to abound for the restaurant. We accept a huge party, we baker carnitas and get a huge nut pot out — one year, we did a lamb, one year, a pig. We absorb the accomplished morning alive and advice them bulb so [our employees] accept that accord amid the agriculturalist and the restaurant and area our aliment comes from.”
Understanding that accord — and affectionate the farmers who accomplish it accessible — are big capacity in Cooper’s repertoire.
“We’re in a association where, aback industrialization, aliment is aloof there — and we’ve absent faculty of area it comes from,” he says. “I try to be actual active and altered about how I access farmers and who we assignment with. With Spencer from Cross Creek Farms, I took a few of my cooks to the processing plant, and we candy all of the ducks with them that we acclimated aftermost year. It allows my bodies to accept that the avoid advancing in the aperture is not aloof a aliment item. It had a life.”
The role of controlling chef can generally be a aloof one. Restaurant hours are continued and arduous, and a active kitchen is a demanding kitchen.
“I’ll be 40 aing year, and I’ve accomplished that 80 percent of why I do what I do is that the apple is a adamantine place, and award a artistic way to adore what you do for a active on a circadian base is hard,” he says. “I adulation actuality able to actualize a ancestors ambiance area I can grow, and I can breeding others and see them abound every day. Truly, that’s what drives me every day.
“A huge allotment of what I do and how I do it is that I accept in what Ropeswing is doing,” Cooper adds. “I accept in developing this community. I accept in actuality a allotment of it. And that’s not a sales pitch. You booty those amount behavior out of who I am, and there’s no acumen for me to be here. It’s all about actual in this apple and creating those little pockets of ambiance and ancestors and adorning that accomplish activity a little beneath abhorrent and a little added meaningful.”
DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: July 24, 1979, Eureka Springs
MY FAVORITE HOLIDAY OR EVENT TO PREPARE A MENU: Charity contest with added chefs like No Kid Hungry and Thanksgiving with my wife and babe helping.
MY FAVORITE WAY TO RELIEVE STRESS WHEN THINGS GET TENSE IN THE KITCHEN IS: Training Taijiquan (Tai chi) and active my ’79 Ford barter through the Ozarks.
THE INGREDIENTS NO KITCHEN SHOULD BE WITHOUT ARE: Acceptable affection sea salts and vinegar.
MY GREATEST STRENGTH IS: My adeptness to acquaint with anyone.
ONE THING THAT MIGHT SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT ME IS: I am additionally a accountant locksmith.
WHAT GETS ME ENERGIZED IS: The activity of my agents and spending time with accompany and family.
TAKE ANYTHING, BUT DON’T TAKE: My time abroad from my family.
Photo by Ben Goff“I’m from that earlier bearing area you accomplished beneath a chef, and you were about accustomed to talk, abundant beneath accept an assessment of your own. I don’t aphorism that way. I never have. … No one learns by actuality screamed at or accepting knives befuddled at them or actuality demeaned.” -Matthew Cooper
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