I was invited out last Thursday night to attend The Next Course, the annual fundraiser dinner benefitting Youth Home, Inc., which was held in the Great Hall of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. All proceeds from the evening will be used to purchase, repair, and update kitchen equipment for the residential and day treatment campus located on Colonel Glenn Road. This is a huge deal when you consider the kitchen prepares over 114,000 meals per year.

As you might expect, given the setting, the dinner was formal, yet I found the overall atmosphere to be very relaxed, interactive and quite fun. There were silent auctions and donations you could make with your phone throughout the night, and, of course, food, and plenty of it–five full courses, to be exact, along with one intermezzo and one cheese course.

The talents of chefs Stephen Burrow, Shane Henderson, Gilbert Alaquinez and Anne Woodson were on full display the entire evening, as course after course came out, accompanied by a quick videos displayed on an enormous projection screen, showing each chef cooking the dish you were about to eat. This playful, yet informative spin on a typical fundraiser dinner was what separated The Next Course from so many other similar events.

After an hour-long wine reception outside the hall, guests sat down to a first course of Arkansas tomato gazpacho with smoked hominy, avocado, cola-braised plantation quail fritter and corn shoots, which was paired with Project Paso Sauvignon Blanc. Honestly, this proved to be my favorite overall dish of the evening, as I appreciated the addition of cream to the gazpacho, making it ideal for the fall season.

The second course of smoked pork confit with an ancho hoe cake, demi-glace agrodolce and housemade corn nuts, along with a third course of butter poached shrimp were both delicious, but it was the fourth course of Maple Leaf Farm’s sorghum-braised duck leg with a baked grit custard that really stole the show. A fork-full of tender duck meat and creamy grit custard had me hoping this dish eventually makes it on 42’s menu, if it hasn’t already. By the time I got to the dessert course of peanut butter cheesecake with a banana chip crust and a chunk of bacon brittle, I was ready to wave the white flag. With stomach space dwindling, I was only able to eat half of my dessert.

Great food aside, the evening was about giving to the Youth Home, Inc. If you weren’t able to attend, but are interested in learning more about this non-profit mental health provider located right here in Little Rock, please go to their comprehensive website. And please consider coming out to next year’s event.

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