- DANIEL WALKER
- Donnie Ferneau
It’s been almost a year since Chef Donnie Ferneau left Rocket 21, the restaurant which once bore the chef’s name before he sold it to Frank Fletcher in November of 2011. Since that time, the chef has kept busy teaching cooking classes, designing a chicken dish for The Tavern Sports Bar, and helping the newly-christened Cellar 220 (formerly Lulav) get going in the Little Rock food scene.
But while Ferneau might be keeping busy, it appears that just cooking and opening a new restaurant venture might not be enough for him: instead of your coming to his restaurant occasionally for dinner, Ferneau wants to bring his rumored Main Street eatery to you, every week…on television. Yes, Eat Arkansas received a tip just today that Ferneau is working with Allison Kaz, a reality show casting and talent director to bring cameras to Little Rock to document his new downtown startup. Kaz, who has worked with previous reality shows like “The Biggest Loser”, “Extreme Makeover”, and “The Apprentice” has created a pitch that casts Ferneau as a struggling chef looking to trade on his reputation as a great cook to open a “dress code enforced, hip, sexy place” that will shake up the Little Rock dining scene with “a hot clientele and an even hotter staff.”
Of course every reality show needs some drama to make it work, and the Ferneau pitch gives us two ready-made antagonists: David and Alex Robinson, Donnie’s new landlords, who are apparently hanging the hopes of their entire $3 million investment on Ferneau’s ability to bring all those sexy babes and dudes into the restaurant with his “Southern charm and mouth that can break you down in 30 seconds.” Of particular note is Mrs. Robinson, who the pitch describes as a “feisty Latina who will call bullshit if things aren’t going right.”
(According to his LinkedIn profile, David Robinson is managing director of Reed Realty Advisors, the group led by developer Scott Reed that’s redeveloping several properties on Main Street, including the Arkansas Building at 6th and Main, an architectural rendering of which is included on the pitch. If Ferneau’s new restaurant went into the Arkansas Building, it would join Kent Walker Artisan Cheeses and Ballet Arkansas as a tenant.
UPDATE: Robinson says the plan, contingent on lease negotiations, is actually for Ferneau’s restaurant to go into the Hall-Davidson Building, property Reed Realty will close on next week. The building is on the corner of Louisiana and Capitol.)
The rest of the presented cast include hot waitresses, a “witty and crude” general manager, and a sous chef who has “burned every culinary bridge in the city because of his love of booze” along with other apparently insanely beautiful and interesting people who will all be thrown together in the restaurant business to hash it out, serve some “fine dining without the heaviness of butter, cream, and fat,” and answer that all-time important question: Can Donnie make the rent?
We asked Electus, Kaz’s company, for a comment on the show and were told that the company “cannot confirm any projects until they are announced via their respective networks.” Ferneau was more direct, denying that he had anything to do with the pitch at all, although soon after we spoke with him, the original link to the Electus page about the show was password protected. Lucky for all of you, I saved a copy before this happened — so check it out right here.
Of course show business is a tricky thing, and there’s no telling if this proposed series will ever see the light of day. The Main Street area has become the hot part of town in the last few years, so maybe downtown is ready for the “younger, fun, hip crowd” that Ferneau hopes to attract. In a world where Kim Kardashian’s entire family can make millions with reality television, I don’t see any reason why one of our hometown favorites shouldn’t be able to tap into people’s voyeuristic needs with a show based in Little Rock. On the other hand, there’s no way I’ll ever be “hip” enough to get in.