Chef Peter Brave of Brave New Restaurant in Little Rock unpacks a basket of local produce from Armstead Farms in Jerusalem and Faulkner Lake Orchard in North Little Rock.

 

BRAVE NEW RESTAURANT COMES ALIVE

Chef Peter Brave’s Local Farm Relationships Stretch Back a Quarter-Century

By: Michael Roberts   Photography: Brian Chilson

Restaurant kitchens are almost always exciting and electric, with a bustle of chopping, cleaning and sautéing punctuated by the good-natured ribbing for which cooks are known. A well-run kitchen is like a purring hot rod, everything well-oiled and moving in rhythm as the crew gets ready for another lunch service. Chef Peter Brave and his team have been at this for over 25 years, and the ease with which everyone moves in the kitchen and prep area of his namesake Brave New Restaurant in Little Rock is a testament to that longevity. 

Peter has consistently been ranked as one of Arkansas’ top chefs, a reputation he credits to the quality of his ingredients. “If you have an awesome product, our job is easy: don’t overdo it,” he says, gesturing to a basket of produce from USDA-organic certified Armstead Farms in Jerusalem filled with fresh potatoes, bright Shunkyo radishes, crisp red and green romaine, heirloom baby beets and purple chive blossoms so light and airy it looks as though they could float away.

“Not many restaurants can say the chef picked the fruit you’re about to order.” 

—Chef Peter Brave

From left to right: Peter slices local strawberries from Faulkner Lake Orchard; shows off his fresh mint and basil grown on the Brave New Restaurant patio; and splashs of Grand Marnier to give his shortcake a delicious kick.

“I’ve been buying from Sue and Rusty at Armstead for over a decade,” Peter says. “I started buying wonderful potatoes from them at the Little Rock Farmers Market, but they’ve expanded into some of the most wonderful produce around. When heirloom tomato season kicks in, they really knock it out of the park. There’s just an unparalleled attention to detail.”

It’s clear the chef is excited about local produce, because using local allows Brave New Restaurant to offer flavors available nowhere else in the world. Gesturing to a pint of fresh-picked strawberries from Faulkner Lake Orchard in North Little Rock, Peter beams. “I met Karen Martin [of Faulkner Lake] out biking, and now I get some of the best strawberries, peaches and other things from her,” Peter says. “That’s how local relationships work.”

With a quick flourish of his knife, the chef turns raw produce into plate-ready ingredients. Those Arkansas strawberries become the basis of a decadent strawberry shortcake garnished with mint grown out on the restaurant’s legendary riverfront patio. Bright radishes and beets join crisp, colorful lettuce for a spring salad that doesn’t require much of a dressing to become divine. And those potatoes? The chef lets them speak for themselves, boiling them until soft, then finishing them in butter with just a touch of salt and pepper. It’s all part of why the simple, yet luxurious, dishes at Brave New have remained so popular over the years.

Armstead and Faulkner Lake Orchards are just two of the local farms from which Peter sources ingredients. Growers from Grass Roots Co-op (Ariel Farm, Arroyo Family Farm, The Farm at Barefoot Bend, Cedar Creek Farm, Dettelbach Farms, Falling Sky Farm, Freckle Face Farm, Fresh Food Farm, Fruit of the Vine Farm, Restoration Farm, Shumate Farm, The Wright Place, Onyekwelu Farm and The Other Side Farm) have a year-round place on Brave New’s menu, while farmers from India Blue Farm in Cabot, and Arkansas Natural Produce in Malvern add their own heirloom tomatoes, fresh greens and spring mixes to the repertoire. While it’s always nice for a farmer to drop the goods off right at the restaurant door, Peter doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, often waking up before the sun to go pick fruit himself.

“Not many restaurants can say the chef picked the fruit you’re about to order,” he says with a laugh. “I go up to Peach Pickin’ Paradise in Clarksville for some of the best peaches I’ve ever had, and I get blueberries from Ples Spradley, a guy I’ve known since we were kids.” The reason behind picking the fruit himself is two-fold: First, it allows him to choose fruit he knows will meet his exacting standards. Second, it gives him another way to promote local farms. “You can eat peaches on our menu and we’ll tell you where to go pick them yourselves. Same with all the produce we use—we want everyone to support farmers like we do.”

The recent rise in “farm to table” as a foodie buzzword is a source of both pride and amusement for Peter Brave. He’s thrilled that more people are interested in where their food comes from, but for him, using local ingredients as much as possible is just what cooking is all about. “The South has one of the richest food cultures in the world,” he says. “We act sometimes like we’re reinventing the wheel, but these simple flavors using local ingredients have been around forever.”

BRAVE NEW RESTAURANT SHORTCAKE

Ingredients:
½ cup sugar
2 ¾ cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup butter
2 eggs
8 ounces sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl, and cut in butter with a fork. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, sour cream and vanilla. 
3. Mix the dry ingredients with the egg mixture until blended. 
4. Measure out an ice cream scoop portion of the dough onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper. 
5. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. 

FRESH STRAWBERRIES

Ingredients:
4 cups Arkansas strawberries, sliced and cored
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
Fresh mint sprigs (optional)
Whipped cream (optional)

Directions: 
Mix the berries, sugar and Grand Marnier in a large bowl. Allow to chill for at least 2 hours. Use berries to top shortcakes. Garnish with mint and whipped cream if desired.