Ben Runkle has always gone back to the source. As the Chef/Owner of Austin’s Salt & Time, he has built his career on cultivating relationships with local producers to create and serve the purest ingredients. And his recent stint aboard the first-ever Luck Showboat was no exception. Ben joined The Mountain Valley Spring Water and Luck Reunion on Nashville’s General Jackson riverboat to produce an unforgettable dinner for 50 lucky guests, all while sailing the Cumberland River.
“When I was asked to come to Nashville to prepare a meal for the Luck Showboat, I jumped at the chance,” Runkle says. “Whenever I’m putting a menu together I start with the ingredients I want to showcase. For this menu I drew inspiration from Nashville’s role as a hub of Southern cuisine, and featured some of the most unique and delicious ingredients produced in the Southern US.”
Runkle’s menu for The Mountain Valley dinner aboard the Luck Showboat fully embodied his vision, featuring pimento cheese; gulf oysters; and a meat-and-three course. Attention to detail and, most importantly, the origin of the ingredients, contributed to a multi-course meal that brought Showboat guests to the heart of the south.
Runkle tapped a unique variety of regional purveyors: Topping the list was an impressive two-years aged ham sourced from the famous Rice’s Country Ham located in Juliet, TN; Murder Point Oysters gave guests a taste of a “different breed” of gulf oysters; Bourbon Barrel Foods brought their bourbon ponzu and soy sauce to the table; and Duke’s Mayonnaise was the perfect touch for Runkle’s real-deal pimento cheese. The meal culminated with a show-stopping dessert utilizing flours from Anson Mills and Steen’s Cane Syrup.
“It’s exciting and interesting to work with these artisan producers. Cooking for guests on a boat was something I found really fun,” Runkle says. “One of the inspirations, besides being in Nashville on a showboat, was partnering with The Mountain Valley: a really great example of world-class natural spring water coming out of the Ouachita Mountains. That really set the tone for the ingredients we chose for the recipes.”
“Natural American goodness means to me: Really fresh and clean flavors...doing it in a natural way. And that’s how you produce a really great product.”