A Q&A with the executive chef of Cache Restaurant in downtown Little Rock | Sponsored Content
Arkansas native Payne Harding has known he wanted to be a chef ever since he was a boy. After apprenticeships at area restaurants and formal training with the Culinary Institute of America, he realized that dream. In 2014, he and his father, Rush, partnered to open Cache Restaurant. Here, Payne gives us a little more insight into his background, passion for food, and what he’s learned since opening the doors of Cache seven years ago.
At Home in Arkansas: When and how did you get into the restaurant business? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Payne Harding: I knew I wanted to be a chef around the age of 12 or 14. I adored eating at fine dining establishments. When I was 15, I took a summer off from sports and decided I wanted an evening job. My parents were regulars at 1620, and my dad suggested I get a job in the kitchen with Tim, one of the chefs. Initially, I started off as a bus boy. I enjoyed the extra tips and was easily entertained by my co-workers, as they were much older than me. Soon, I moved to dishwasher, then to prep cook, and eventually made it as a line cook working with salads and cold foods. I spent my entire summer working at 1620 and discovered I enjoyed the restaurant business.
For the next three years I continued working for 1620 and eventually switched to Michael Selig’s Vermillion Water Grille until I graduated from UCA in 2010. In that time, I also completed a 6-month internship with Jerry Barakat at a now-shuttered restaurant named Amalfi’s.
AHIA: After working at several local establishments, where did you receive your formal training as a chef?
PH: One night my dad and I were out to dinner just the two of us. I told him how much going to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) would mean to me, and how it was going to be my path for success. We both agreed I would wait to enroll once I graduated from UCA, because UCA is an iconic part of our family history and I wanted to be an alumnus there as well. My goal was to graduate from UCA as quickly as possible so I could pursue my dream in Hyde Park, New York, where the CIA is located. I took summer classes every year and gradated from UCA a year early in 2009. I eventually graduated from the CIA in 2012.
AHIA: How did you and your father develop the idea for Cache?
PH: The concept for the restaurant, as far as the design and layout, was developed by Johnson Studio out of Atlanta. The food and bar menu were developed by Matt Cooper, who was the opening chef but departed after a year. After a few years operating Cache as executive chef, I partnered with Lee Richardson as a mentor for two years. [Ed. note: Lee Richardson was previously executive chef at The Capitol Hotel.] His mentorship was undeniably valuable in my development as a chef on numerous levels. I give him credit for helping me find my style as a chef. I’m really proud of how the food has evolved at Cache, and I stand behind our cuisine 100 percent. I do not care what local critics say or think—my food speaks for itself.
AHIA: What’s the story behind the name?
PH: My father, grew up in Clarendon, which located in the Delta. The Cache River was close to his home and a place where he spent a lot of time.
AHIA: Looking at how the restaurant has grown over the years, what makes you most proud of your work there?
PH: I am glad we’ve developed a family-like atmosphere with our employees. I have developed a loyal, trustworthy team of people. The food has become more focused as well as more advanced in plating and delivery. We have been making progress every year, and we took on the COVID pandemic really well while following Gov. Hutchinson’s guidelines. We have gained a loyal patronage of customers that are regulars. Our restaurant has gained a reputation of excellence, which I cannot be happier about.
Cache is located at 425 President Clinton Ave. in Little Rock. Find out more at cachelittlerock.com, and call (501) 850-0265 to make a reservation.
All photos courtesy of Cache Restaurant