REX NELSON: A position for food

In the fall of 2019, I drove to Oklahoma to pay a visit to the Quapaw Nation’s Downstream Casino Resort. As I ate brisket for lunch, Lucus Setterfield explained how the beef experienced been generated by the Quapaw. The bison steak I requested that night time at Downstream’s Red Oak Steakhouse also was created by the tribe.

On that journey, I discovered that the Quapaw roast their very own espresso beans, brew their own beer, mature herbs and vegetables for their dining establishments in greenhouses they very own and even retain the bees that make all the honey the Downstream restaurants use. I was accompanied by Carlton Saffa, the very first staff in Pine Bluff at Saracen Casino Vacation resort, a Quapaw growth.

The most important casino opened in Oct at Pine Bluff. Saracen is continue to tweaking its eating possibilities (its Las Vegas-model buffet, for instance, did not open right up until previous thirty day period), but it can be evident there is an emphasis on meals and beverages. On line casino resorts should present extra than gambling these days. Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort at Hot Springs has thoroughbred racing, of class. Saffa thinks Saracen can established by itself apart as a eating desired destination.

“I knew the term was acquiring out when I walked into our Pink Oak Steakhouse at Saracen and observed folks I regarded from Minimal Rock,” Saffa states. “These people today weren’t just coming to Pine Bluff for gaming. They have been driving right here for a great food out.”

I have experienced dinner two times at Purple Oak. The foods there were being as very good as any I have had in Arkansas. The Pine Bluff development defies the stereotype of an Indian on line casino. For decades, we believed of Indian casinos as low-cost metallic properties crammed with slot devices.

The Quapaw modified the narrative at Downstream, which opened in 2008, by using the services of folks these as Setterfield, who when labored at Small Rock’s Nice Valley Region Club and an upscale restaurant in the River Marketplace District recognized as Nu.

On that 2019 trip to Downstream, Saffa instructed me the intention in Pine Bluff was to have the ideal restaurant in the point out.

“Even when Steve Wynn was at the peak of his energy in Las Vegas, he didn’t roast his own coffee or raise his own cattle,” he mentioned back again then. “Which is what tends to make this firm so different.”

Saffa pulled off a coup when he employed Todd Gold away from his work as affiliate dean and web-site director of the College of Arkansas-Pulaski Technological College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Administration Institute. Gold served in that placement at Pulaski Tech from 2006-20. Right before that, he experienced been president of the Arkansas Culinary University due to the fact 1995.

Gold is a past president of the Arkansas Restaurant Association and a earlier chairman of the Arkansas Hospitality Affiliation. He is president of the Central Arkansas chapter of the American Culinary Federation and even now serves as the advisory board chairman for the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute again in Minimal Rock.

Gold, a Small Rock indigenous, commenced his occupation at Bruno’s Minimal Italy as a dishwasher. By the time he was 18, he experienced labored his way up to kitchen supervisor. He properly trained at the Memphis Culinary Academy, graduating in 1993.

Subsequent graduation, Gold started a career at nicely-recognised dining establishments, lodges and place clubs in central Arkansas. From 2007-12, he was president and an owner of the Purple Cow restaurants. He even served a nine-calendar year stint as company government chef for Acxiom Corp.

“I’m a venture dude,” suggests Gold, whose title is food items and beverage director. “I like having on new jobs like this a single.”

He has set together a workforce of talented chefs these as Cynthia East and Joseph Coleman. East graduated from the Culinary Institute of The united states in Hyde Park, N.Y. From there, she moved to Colorado, foremost the restaurant at a Ritz-Carlton Resort. She aided open up 16 eating places as corporate government chef at Tacos 4 Lifetime and labored with Gold at Pulaski Tech. Her title at Saracen is government chef.

Coleman, the Red Oak chef, is from a armed forces family members and spent six several years in the Philippines. He afterwards was chef at Tiny Rock’s Marriott Lodge.

East and Coleman are acquiring associations with farmers, ranchers and business fishermen so they can offer as several Arkansas products and solutions as doable. On this check out, Coleman notes dishes that use Esau’s sweet corn from southeast Arkansas and root beer from Diamond Bear in North Very little Rock.

Coleman joined the Saracen employees last July, and the steakhouse served its initially meals Nov. 4. Meal is served at Pink Oak 4 evenings a 7 days from Wednesday as a result of Saturday.

“Folks are sensation safer now,” he claims as he looks throughout the crowded eating space. “They are wanting for a cause to get out.”

Gold was hired in March 2020 just as the pandemic started. He used time at Downstream, learning how matters are performed there.

“Everything they have there, we want to have in Arkansas,” he says.

I consider back to what Setterfield advised me for the duration of that 2019 journey to Downstream when I requested him why he experienced stayed there considering the fact that getting hired in 2008: “I realized that Downstream was heading to be a quite diverse sort of casino. There are particular alternatives that you look for in this enterprise. To be at a resort where by the target is as considerably on great eating as it is on gaming was a single of these chances.

“Pine Bluff will have the similar focus. Our cooks are fired up to fulfill the producers of different products across the state. This job will enable them consider their palms at modern day Southern cuisine.”

If my to start with two visits to Red Oak are any indicator, Saracen is properly on its way to currently being recognised as additional than just a gaming destination.

Senior Editor Rex Nelson’s column seems on a regular basis in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He is also the creator of the Southern Fried blog site at

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