501 Life Magazine | ‘Eat to live, not live to eat’
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‘Eat to live, not live to eat’

by Don Bingham

Chef Jason Knapp’s road to his present career has been exciting and diversified. Starting at the Waffle House in 1997, Knapp’s history also includes Zack’s Place, the Pleasant Valley Country Club in Little Rock, Brannan’s Market, Sonny Williams Steak House and eight years at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. Knapp has served as ad hoc instructor at Pulaski Technical College and chef-food service director for the main campus restaurant, The Big Rock Bistro. He currently works at the University of Central Arkansas with ARAMARK Food Services.

  Chef Jason Knapp.

As a locally grown chef, Jason graduated from the Arkansas Chapter School of Apprenticeship with the American Culinary Federation, and in 2008 he was honored with the title of 2009 Arkansas Chef of the Year.

Chef Jason is currently serving as executive chef of catering for UCA and does some instructing for the Kitchen Co., Williams Sonoma and segments for Good Morning Arkansas on Channel 7 KATV in Little Rock.

Knapp takes an uncomplicated approach in his cooking style.

“Classical foods, simplistic foods – nothing that confuses the palate,” Knapp said. “My mentality is ‘eat to live, not live to eat.’”

Knapp takes this approach to other aspects of his life, as he spends almost as much time and energy in working out, running, bike riding and marathons as he spends in the kitchen.

“It’s been fun to watch the new wave of seeing more men in the kitchen, more men cooking at home,” Knapp said. “And after all, there is that degree of knife handling and working with fire.”

Knapp says recycling and conservation are a “must” for working in the present economy.

“I’m looking forward to learning more about canning and freezing of fresh items and produce from the garden and all the while, wasting nothing,” Knapp said. “The art of making your own stock – from bones to herbs – we need a revival of knowing how to use what is available.”

Jason is married to Nicole Knapp, “Mrs. Arkansas 2009,” and they have one son, Taylor. “Taylor and I cook together – usually it’s called ‘pizza day,’” Knapp said. “Taylor and I prepare the pizza dough from scratch, doing our own sauces and having a great time of father-son bonding in the kitchen.”

Knapp’s skills were both tested and enjoyed in a recent 12-course dinner he prepared for a client, with some of the courses being Beef Tataki, Southern Lobster Roll with Vanilla Vinaigrette and macaroni and cheese.

In the near future, Knapp will cook and orchestrate a dinner for 1,000 guests. His game plan for the venture – break the evening down into four serving lines to feed 250 each, with a staff of 75 or more to assist. His additional preparation includes making sure he is “prayed up” for the event.

Chef Knapp is proud to share some of his recipes with the 501 LIFE community.

Hazelnut Caramel Tart


1 9-inch pie crust (homemade or purchased, thawed)

¾ cup whipping cream

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 cup hazelnuts toasted, peeled and coarsely


Fit tart pastry into a metal 9- or 9 ½-inch tart tin with removable bottom. Flute pastry at rim. Place pastry lined pan in freezer. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

To make filling, combine cream and sugar; stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved. Increase heat to medium and cook until mixture turns pale tan and reaches a temperature of 238 degrees F.

Remove mix from heat and stir in liqueur and vanilla; then add nuts. Cool at least 10 minutes. Bake tart until filling is a golden caramel color, 25-30 minutes. Cool.


2 tablespoons yeast

1 1/4 cup flour

1 1/3 cup milk

13 eggs

7 1/2 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

6 teaspoons salt

1 7-oz. pkg. butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix yeast and 1 1/4 cups flour. Warm milk to 105 degrees F and add to yeast mix. Before adding, be sure milk is warm, not hot to the touch. Whisk milk in for one minute to develop gluten. Let sit 20 minutes. Mixture should have a light, bubbly texture when ready.

In the meantime, mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Once yeast mixture is ready, whisk in the eggs and beat until incorporated. Place mixture into a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. On low speed, slowly start adding the dry ingredients. Once incorporated, switch speed to medium and let run 10 minutes or until dough stretches to thin membrane when pulled. At this stage, add softened butter and mix until incorporated.

Transfer dough to bowl and cover with plastic wrap sprayed with nonstick spray. Refrigerate overnight. Turn out dough on floured surface and cut 12 equal portions. Cup each portion with the palm of your hand and roll with a circular motion until dough forms a smooth ball. Place two balls of dough into each 4-by-9 loaf pan. Let rise until doubled, about two hours. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until firm with nicely golden brown crust.

Tomato and Green Chile Buttermilk Dressing

2 cloves garlic, peeled

3-4 pinches of salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 cup mayonnaise

4 tablespoons of fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons of minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons snipped chives

Salt and coarse grind pepper to taste

1 can Rotel (pureed)

Mix garlic and salt in processor. Add buttermilk and mayonnaise. Squeeze in lime juice. Add parsley, chives and seasonings. Empty into container. Puree Rotel and combine.