The Hive, Executive Chef
Matthew McClure was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, where hunting, fishing, and his grandmother’s cooking ignited his passion for food. After studying at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, he settled in Boston working at a number of restaurants including Troquet, Harvest, and No. 9 Park under the direction of Barbara Lynch.
After years in Boston, Matthew was eager to get back to his home state to reconnect with the ingredients and foodways of his childhood. He returned to Little Rock where he worked under Lee Richardson at Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel, developing strong relationships with local farmers and producers, and rediscovering the agricultural resources of his home state.
In 2012, Matthew joined the opening team of The Hive, located at 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville. The Hive represents his take on the “High South” – his home state’s distinct culinary identity—in dishes like Sorghum-Roasted Duck with hominy grits, and a wood-fired Hog Chop with Ralston Rice. Matthew was a James Beard Award semifinalist for the “Best Chef: South” category consecutively from 2014 to 2019, and was a speaker at the 2016 James Beard Foundation Conference: Now Trending: The Making of a Food Movement. Matthew was awarded Food & Wine Magazine’s “The People’s Best New Chef” award for the Midwest in 2015. He is also an active member of the Southern Foodways Alliance and supporter of No Kid Hungry.
There is no greater privilege in life than to be a person who is free to be exactly who they are, and no greater responsibility as a leader than to allow others to do the same. I am both the beneficiary of that freedom, and a wholehearted supporter of creating the very same opportunity for those around me. While I am a chef by choice, definition and trade, I am also an equally devoted husband, father, team mate and friend. There is nothing stereotypical about my team in terms of appearance or behavior in the kitchen. We work together because we all share common bonds: hard work, dedication, honesty, respect for one another, a sense of community and the joy of creativity. No matter what you do or who you are, we would all do well to remember that we are only as good as those that surround and support us. The more time we invest in the care of our families, colleagues and communities, the more we all stand to gain. I love working on a team and I love working with food…everything else is just fluff.
I grew up in Little Rock, but I was always drawn to the natural beauty of rural Arkansas — the geography varies widely with mountains, river valleys, forests, lakes and bayous. An innate curiosity of cooking, a connection to local ingredients and where our food came from was always a part of my childhood. My father worked in finance during the week, but was also an avid outdoorsman on nights and weekends. As a result, I was surrounded by wild game and fish, and my parents were both good cooks as their mothers had been before them. This inherently led me to cooking, first in restaurants during high school where I found myself thriving on the energy of a busy service — it had an almost addictive quality. After High School, I headed for college at the University of Arkansas, with plans for becoming an engineer. While at school, I came to learn that my heart just wasn’t in that line of study, so I turned back to what has been my lifelong passion…cooking.
The joy and challenge of food and cooking trends is that they are always in a constant state of flux. Where the notion of fine dining seems to have waned to a smaller percentage of the overall offerings, the excitement around quality ingredients and the dining experience has led to a demand for high quality food in a more casual environment. Now we’re seeing the result of this incredible marriage in beautifully executed comfort foods and BBQ pit masters using heritage breed hogs. It truly feels like it’s the most exciting time to be a chef in history! There are also efforts that are led by the James Beard Foundation to train chefs to become food policy advocates. As a chef, our responsibilities reach far beyond running a kitchen and managing labor and food costs. We are also dutifully charged with caring for our communities on both a local and national level. #Chefslead
The low profit margins of restaurants will always limit what the hospitality industry can do on an individual basis. That challenge translates to lower wages, and little to no healthcare coverage for employees (even those that have reached a manager level).
In terms of development or gentrification, building owners often see growth opportunities when leasing space to restaurants, because it typically translates into increased value of the physical property. The challenge is that the increased property value may not ever benefit the restaurant itself — success often leads to increases in rent as a result of property value growth, cannibalizing any revenue gains to be had by a restaurant. However, what we lack in wealth, we make up for in numbers. Hospitality is the second largest industry in Arkansas behind agriculture, and makes up more workers. If mobilized, that workforce could change the conversation about waste responsibility, nutrition and food education, setting the stage for a more balanced, healthy hospitality model.
The best business ideas are simple and unique. To offer a high quality Arkansas dining experience through well prepared, locally sourced food as well as attentive, friendly service.
I believe that our success in Bentonville is due to two key strategies: The first is to engage and participate within our own community in leadership roles. I currently serve as Vice President of the A&P commission, and host/support several charitable initiatives including, No Kid Hungry and Friends of James Beard Sunday Supper, amongst others.
The second is to consistently execute at what we feel is the highest level. We are fortunate to have good leadership at the property level, as well as the corporate level that work to support our efforts. Our culture is predicated on a single notion, “We Say Yes.”. That starts with saying yes to our colleagues, which makes it very easy to “say yes” to our visitors and guests. To me, it’s pretty simple — hospitality is taking care of people, being genuine and kind to one another. Because we treat each other with respect, this notion creates a positive environment where team mates are empowered to take care of the guests in that same way.
What I learned: Take care of your team and they will take care of you.
How I learned it: Technically, this isn’t the only example but it was a big event. In November 2014 we had a fire in a single hood vent from a wood burning grill about a week before Thanksgiving. Thankfully, this didn’t completely destroy the kitchen, however the fire suppression system had been deployed. It made a huge mess, we lost power and with it, a lot of food from our walk in refrigerators. Over the next several days, we were tasked with cleaning the kitchen and ready for inspection, so that we could start cooking in preparation of Thanksgiving (one of our busiest days of the year). The team came together — energized and positive to ready the kitchen, every square inch of surfaces scoured, food thrown out, all pots, pans, plates, everything had to be cleaned. It was similar to opening a new restaurant. By Tuesday night we were cooking, and pulled off a great Thanksgiving service. It was really amazing to see it come together so well.
I believe that our guests see the value in our menu. It’s designed with high quality local ingredients in mind, using refined cooking techniques and creativity. Our warm and friendly service makes our diners feel as though they are a guest in our home.
My approach is such that as a leader, the team doesn’t report to me, I report to them. It is my responsibility to supply them the tools they need to do their job; be that equipment, information, guidance or advice. In order for me to do this effectively, I need to hire the right people — team members that are ambitious, hardworking and don’t necessarily need motivation; they need direction and guidance. I strive to develop a professional kitchen culture that nurtures the next generation of chefs in our community. I feel that passion is contagious; if I can share my love of food, cooking and hospitality with the team, they will work to be a part of our family. Most of the team has been here for several years, and I feel a responsibility to give them what they need to succeed.
I believe that distinguishing yourself among others in your field is important. For me, moving to Boston to learn how to cook gave me a unique foundation and diversity of thought that I feel helps inform me to this day. I would urge anyone looking to go into the hospitality industry to move to a big market, work for the best chef/restaurant they can get into and stay for at least 1-2 years before looking for the position. No matter where you land, you will learn different lessons from different people. All of which is invaluable experience.
Communication in my strong suit. These days, I don’t cook nearly as much as I once did. It is important for me to articulate to the chef team what I am looking for in new dishes, what I like or dislike and that requires honest, useful feedback. While I manage a lot with my palate, I also communicate with the sales team on events, service team on the food we are cooking and vendors or farmers on sourcing food we plan to cook. I want to set an example of what a chef can be to the Hive team. Beyond just cooking food, how I communicate is an important part of being a strong leader.
A keen understanding that I am who I am, regardless of recognition or attention. I am grateful for the opportunities that that are afforded me, and the company of my colleagues that I have the joy of keeping.
I want to put Arkansas on the national culinary map. We have such an extraordinary story here, but I truly believe that it is ours to tell. This is a beautiful state with so much to offer, and I want to be one of the chefs that gets to contribute to this narrative.
How much time do you have? I am a lucky guy…
I married the woman of my dreams, we have two beautiful children and I get to do what I genuinely love for a living.
I work for a company that has supported me and given me the tools I need to be successful. This has led to 6 semifinalist nominations for JBF Best Chef awards, and a number of awards from Arkansas based publications. I am privileged to work with an awesome team every day. My professional success is directly tied to the hard work of the team that supports me.
Be a part of the solution. It’s a positive way to live life and approach challenges.
For me, the personal and professional lines are blurred here; Ashley Christensen, Kelly English and John Currence have all set a high bar in terms of what it means to be a good leader, business person and overall great human being. I am fortunate to know them, and always learn something new when I am in their company.
I love heading out west to the national parks; Glacier, Yellowstone and Rocky Mt NP are some of my favorites. I also love traveling to Italy, France and the UK. The food culture in these countries is incredible.
A Day in My Life:
What do you love most about Your City?
I love how connected everyone is to each other. It’s a small town, in a low population state. We have access to folks that most people don’t.
Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?
My favorite breakfast is chilaquiles. I could never name a favorite restaurant – that’s like asking me which child is my favorite!
What are you doing at:
6:00 AM – Possibly up with my son, (he’s a baby that likes to get up early)
10:00 AM – At the Hive.
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
I have to start the day with coffee and end it with a cold beer. Whatever else that happens in between, I can handle. Just don’t mess with the beverages and everything will be OK.
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
Mostly food related but a little art mixed in too. @chefdanbarber @nytcooking @seriouseats @chefaz @danielhumm @savuermag @ahlenartstudio
What should everyone try at least once?
A cantaloupe grown in the Arkansas Delta. It will change your perspective of what a melon can be.
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
Big Cities. I love the anonymity of wandering around and discovering something unexpected.