Story: Rosemary Hallmark | Photography: Rett Peek |
Casual entertaining comes easy for Little Rock chef and restaurateur Ben Brainard
For Ben Brainard and his wife, Jamie, nothing stands in the way of a good party. Not even a renovation. The couple embarked on a whole home renovation of their mid-century Heights bungalow last year, finishing just in time to move back in on December 21 and host 65 guests for Christmas Eve. “I love to make my life as difficult as possible,” Brainard laughs.
He admits that, aesthetically, the redesign was mostly his wife’s vision. But as a chef and part-owner of Little Rock’s Local Lime and Heights Taco & Tamale Co. restaurants, Brainard had a list of must-haves for the kitchen, including an open floor plan for entertaining, a large kitchen island, and a Wolf range. The couple went with a light, marbled Quartzite countertop both for its look and durability. “We loved this countertop when we saw the material,” Brainard says. “We entertain and we have kids. If we’d chosen marble it would’ve already been destroyed.”
Entertaining has become an art for the Brainards, who host friends and family about three times a month. “Mexican is easy for entertaining,” Brainard says. “Tacos lend themselves to big group gatherings because people can create their own and toppings are abundant, so there’s something for everyone—even picky eaters or people with dietary restrictions.” Tacos also allow Brainard to serve dinner family style instead of chaining himself to the kitchen, plating food while the party is happening elsewhere.
When serving spicy food, however, a cool drink is mandatory. It’s also Brainard’s go-to entertaining tip. “Take the time to make a cocktail,” he says. “It sets the mood and takes the stuffiness out of the night when someone walks in your house and you hand them a drink.”
1 4-5 pound pork shoulder
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon coriander
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon New Mexican chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 ripe pineapple
1 large red bell pepper
2 Guajillo chiles
2 cups chicken stock
Mix all wet and dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Rub liberally over the pork shoulder and let sit in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.
While the seasoning is on the pork shoulder, cut and core the pineapple. Dry the pineapple with a paper towel and lightly season with salt. Grill on high until well caramelized on all sides. Cut and seed the bell pepper. Brush lightly with olive oil and season with salt. Grill until well charred.
Smoke the pork shoulder using hickory and charcoal at 250 degrees for 4 hours. Move pork from smoker into a cast iron pot with lid. Add half the grilled pineapple, the grilled bell pepper, both Guajillo chiles (whole) and 2 cups of chicken stock. Cover with lid and cook at 325 degrees for 2 ½ hours or until done, depending on size of shoulder. Let rest for 30 minutes, pull apart and enjoy.
CURTIDO (Mexican Green Cabbage Slaw)
2 quarts very thinly sliced green cabbage
1 1/2 cups very thinly sliced white onion
1 cup shredded carrot
2 minced jalapeñoes (seeded or unseeded depending on taste)
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
Mix vinegar, salt and sugar in small sauce pot and bring to a boil. Combine all vegetables in mixing bowl. Pour hot vinegar mixture over vegetables and gently combine. Place in refrigerator until served.
Any local, fresh corn tortillas will make this dish decidedly better.
Heat up corn tortilla on a griddle with a little butter. Top warm tortilla with desired amount of pork and curtido. Cut up some of the reserved grilled pineapple and add as desired. Finish with a small amount of sour cream, cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
1 ½ ounces of Reposado Tequila
1 ounce Grand Marnier
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 cups of ice
Shake all ingredients in shaker and pour into salt-rimmed glass
Contractor/Designer Jacob White, Jacob White Construction, Little Rock, (501) 912-2444
Appliances Metro Appliances and More, North Little Rock, (501) 758-1988, metroappliancesandmore.com
Bar Stools Ken Rash’s Outdoor Furniture, Little Rock, (501) 663-1818, kenrashsoutdoorfurniture.com
Cabinets Bill Wintz Custom Cabinet, Jacksonville, (501) 982-8726
Countertops Stone World Designs, Hot Springs, (501) 762-0254, stoneworlddesigns.com
Hardware Kaufman by Design, Little Rock, (501) 673-3978, kaufmanbydesignwest.com
Lighting TEC Electric Company, North Little Rock, (501) 758-5483, tecelectric.com
Tile ProSource Wholesale, North Little Rock, (501) 295-3276, prosourceoflittlerock.com