A fun Q&A with some of the state’s up-and-coming chefs as well as culinary superstars.

Photography by Janet Warlick

MARK ABERNATHY

Chef & Owner / Loca Luna & Red Door / Little Rock

Hometown: Little Rock.

Are you a formally trained chef or an on-the-job-trained cook? I did not attend culinary school, but I have trained with some great chefs and taken culinary classes throughout my career.

How many years have you worked in the food industry? 45 years.

What or who inspired you to become a chef/cook? The women who were in my life as I grew up.

What was the first item or meal you prepared? I remember being a young child, rolling out dumplings and standing on a chair to drop them into the boiling chicken stock in my grandmother’s kitchen.

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What is your favorite meal to prepare? Honestly I don’t have one. I have had restaurants that featured Mexican, Southwest, seafood, French provincial and Italian food and now Loca Luna, and Red Door, which features a menu that is eclectic, new-Southern and all over the map. I like to cook it all.

What is your favorite meal? I’m a Southern boy, so it’s a tossup between a great, perfectly executed ribeye or fried chicken (dark meat), both with mashed potatoes made with an obscene amount of butter and some buttered sweet peas.

What is your favorite meal to eat out? Mexican food.

What is your favorite junk food? Cheetos and pork cracklins.

What is your favorite type of cuisine? Soul food, Mexican and Italian.

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What is your favorite utensil, gadget or piece of equipment? A very sharp knife, Microplane graters and zesters, and a blender.

Where do you find ideas for new menu items? I constantly read food books, articles and watch food shows. My wife, Lyne, contributes a lot — she is a great cook. We both take ideas and twist them around every-which-a-way to make them ours.

For whom would you most like to prepare a meal? Friends.

Music or silence? Music and lots of it.

Salty or sweet? Generally, I’m a savory guy but you need both. You can’t appreciate one without the other and they often need each other to work. A little salt makes a dessert work, and sugar is the secret to great Southern vegetables.

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Bake or nah? I have never been a great baker, because I like to get “off the reservation” when I cook. That’s hard to do that when you bake. It’s too scientific, and it also takes patience, which I don’t have a lot of. I really admire creative bakers.

Beer, wine or cocktail? I normally start my evening with a great small batch bourbon or a 15-year-old single malt scotch with light peat. I then move to a glass of hearty, “ballsy” red wine. My bartender son, Brett Bassett, sometimes treats me to some creative cocktails, which I enjoy.

Do you cook at home? A lot.

What food or meal do you wish you’d invented? As far as we know, my late partner, Frank McGehee, and I introduced white cheese dip to the world about 27 years ago at Blue Mesa Grill. I’ll settle for that for now.


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