By Chantal Forster

Each New Year’s Eve is magical in the city that never sleeps. The celebrations, the atmosphere, the ball dropping, you can feel the excitement everywhere. New Year’s Eve in New York means so much to my siblings and me for many reasons – we look forward to celebrating the opportunities of a new year and it’s also the day our Mom was born. This year, I had the amazing privilege and chance to take my Mom to the James Beard House for some New Year’s Eve elegance and a birthday celebration she’d never forget.

The late James Beard was a champion of American cuisine, a cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge about food. He helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts, instilling in them the value of wholesome, healthful, and delicious food.

Today, The James Beard Foundation’s mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone. The Foundation also maintains the historic James Beard House in New York City’s Greenwich Village as a “performance space” for visiting chefs – like the one with Mom and I were about to ring in the New Year.

Photo By Beth Hall

The Evening’s Main Man
The New Year’s evening at The James Beard House was billed as “A Southern New Year’s Eve.” The visiting chef in charge of the night’s dining festivities was Rob Nelson, Executive Chef of Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie in Bentonville, Arkansas. Chef Rob and his team were the most hospitable people you could ever hope for, all extremely down-to-earth and genuine. Their southern charm and warmth were certainly welcome additions to the frosty New York evening.

James Beard House Interior

As you walk into the James Beard House, it reminded me of my grandparents’ house. It’s a quaint townhome that exudes cordiality and character. The traditions and memories are tangible; it was evident that the dining experience was going to be memorable. And the smell? The smell was incredible, a true testament to the extraordinary work of Chef Rob and his team, and a foreshadowing of what was yet to come.

The evening began with a cocktail hour and we enjoyed a mix of hors oeuvres and mouthwatering cocktails. My favorite small bite was the fried duck liver with a homemade pickle on a buttermilk biscuit. My favorite libation was the Pecan Champagne cocktail made by mixologist Scott Baker.

Following the cocktail hour, guests were summoned to the dining room. My Mom and I had the honor of being seated with Chef Rob’s wife and friends – what a treat! From the moment we sat down, we enjoyed scrumptious courses. Mom and I agreed that our favorite dish was the Grass-fed Beef Tenderloin with Root Vegetable Mash, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, and Kent Walker Feta Cheese Sauce. We enjoyed the southern hospitality of Arkansas natives and learning about how Chef Rob discovered his natural culinary talents and passion.

Getting To Know Award-Winning Chef Rob Nelson
Chef Rob’s success is not surprising given his training and experience. After attending the University of Arkansas, Rob attended the Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, Colorado. While in Boulder, he also learned from James Beard Award winner Chef Hugo Matheson, Owner/Chef of The Kitchen.

Rob also studied in Avignon, France, located in the Provence region, where he attended Le Marmiton Cooking School and Universite du Vin in Sousse la Rousse, France. At Le Marmiton Cooking School, Rob studied under two-star Michelin recipient Christian Etienne, one-star Michelin recipient Christian Peyre, and Disciple d’Escoffier Jean-Claude Altmayer. While at Universite du Vin, Rob studied under French Master Chef, Head of Disciple d’Escoffier Provence Chapter Michel Receveur and fellow disciple Jean-Michel Aviant. While in Avignon, Rob worked at La Mirande, a Michelin one-star restaurant under Executive Chef Julien Allano.

Today, at the helm of Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie located a block off “The Square” in Downtown Bentonville, Arkansas, Chef Rob’s eatery features an atmosphere casual enough to invite families with a menu sophisticated enough to wow the most traveled gourmet. His menu features local produce when possible and shifts seasonally to accentuate available ingredients.

James Beard House Exterior

You, Too, Can Dine At The James Beard House in New York City
International Opulence magazine is a proud member of the James Beard Foundation (and in each issue we’re pleased to have JBF President Susan Ungaro among our distinguished columnists), but members and non-members alike are welcome to dine at the James Beard House located at 167 W. 12th Street. For reservation tickets and to view the schedule of visiting chefs who will be cooking at the James Beard House in 2017, go to www.jamesbeard.org or call 212-675-4984.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

P.S. Be sure to look for the upcoming Spring 2017 edition of International Opulence in mid March in which we’ll take a look at the initial round of restaurant and chef candidates nominated for a potential James Beard Award – the prestigious ‘Academy Awards’ of the culinary industry, in May 2017.