Seasoned Little Rock chefs learn something new cooking Quapaw cuisine

Historic Arkansas Museum - Monday, February 26, 2018

INSPIRED BY QUAPAW CUISINE: Chefs Michael Selig (left) and Gilbert Alaquinez talk about cooking traditional Quapaw recipes.

To kick off our inaugural History is Served heritage dinner series on February 23rd, we welcomed chefs Gilbert Alaquinez and Michael Selig from 42 bar & table to prepare a four-course meal based on the cuisine of the Quapaw Indian tribe. The History is Served dinner series is the first of many the Historic Arkansas Museum will host over the next year, in which local chefs are invited to create a multi-course meal based on a traditional Arkansas food culture.

Several weeks before the big night, the museum’s research team provided the chefs with their homework—Quapaw recipes, lists of indigenous ingredients, and plenty of articles about traditional Quapaw cooking methods—and then set them free to create an authentic menu with a modern twist. The results were mouthwatering! Sunflower seed cakes, lima bean succotash, New York strip-style bison topped with sweet potato frites, and a flourless chocolate torte provided guests with a delectable dose of history at the table.

Chef Alaquinez shared his experience with us from HAM’s kitchen.

What was it like for you to cook a dinner based on traditional Quapaw food?

We’ve been doing Dinners Around the World menus at 42 bar & table, and this heritage dinner was a seamless fit. During the month, I do the research for the Around the World menu, to research a country, look at the most popular items, like particular appetizers, and see what’s the street food, and whatnot. [For this event] the Historic Arkansas Museum gave me a list of recipes and ingredients and information on what was indigenous, like blueberries, pecans, persimmons, beans, different root vegetables... It was actually kind of weird, there were mussels on the list—I never knew there were fresh water mussels. We were trying to figure out a way to get them and it would have had to have been a special order and it ended up being too complicated.

Why were you interested in cooking a heritage dinner?

I am always interested in other cultures. I wish I could be an anthropologist because by cooking I learn about that culture and I take out something and I use it in other cooking that I do in restaurants. So you know, it’s always awesome to learn other cultures, to learn what they ate, how they prepared the food and knowing the history of how they got here and how they lived. It’s a whole process, all the homework that goes into it, and then actually cooking it and everyone enjoying it and getting a good reaction from it. That’s what got me into cooking in the first place.

A MODERN TAKE ON TRADITIONAL FOOD: Alaquinez chooses a New York Strip cut of bison wrapped in bacon, a demi-glace and topped with sweet potato frites

Were there particular ingredients that you liked working with?

I was very familiar with the duck, living here in Arkansas. The bison—I’ve done beefalo burgers but I’ve never done New York Strip—so that was fun. It’s very similar to beef. I learned about different [Quapaw] stews, like the vegetable stew. Sunflowers were a predominating ingredient in the whole meal. I used them a lot in this dinner, in the first course soup puree, in the appetizers’ sunflower seed cakes. We used sunflower seeds and even sunflower sprouts in other courses.

Would you do something like this again?

It’s been a lot of fun. I would love to do some of this cooking outside. We could build a fire outside and actually do this cooking with either cast iron or somehow dig a hole. I love cooking and camping. Maybe do one dish where guests have to eat with their hands.

I can’t wait to see what the next chefs come up with.

The next History is Served dinner series is April 5th at Historic Arkansas Museum, and the theme will be Colonial Arkansas with French and Spanish influences. Tickets will be on sale online only at, beginning March 12th.