LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson donned an apron and wielded a kitchen knife Friday during a news conference announcing the creation of a statewide program to recognize Arkansas’ culinary heritage.


Speaking to reporters in the kitchen of the Governor’s Mansion, Hutchinson and Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst said nominations are being accepted now for the inaugural class of inductees into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.


“This initiative, I think, is really extraordinary for Arkansas in terms of marketing what Arkansas is about, and it’s also about remembering our history, because you can’t have history without having a connection to food,” Hutchinson said.


Hurst said food plays an important role in Arkansas’ heritage, but previously there has been no state program to celebrate and discuss that role.


“We look forward to a very robust conversation with the citizens of Arkansas,” she said.


Plans call for the Food Hall of Fame to induct three honorees each year. The honor will go to longstanding restaurants that have become legendary attractions and staples in the state.


Also, awards will be given each year to the Proprietor of the Year, the Food-Themed Event of the Year and the People’s Choice.


Nominations can be submitted at ArkFoodHOF.com.


A 13-member committee will select finalists and choose the honorees, except for the People’s Choice award, which will go to the restaurant or food truck that receives the most nominations in that category.


The committee includes Paul Austin, executive director of the Arkansas Humanities Council; former restaurant owner Evette Brady; Chip Culpepper, creative officer at marketing firm Mangan Holcomb Partners; historian Tom Dillard; historian Cindy Grisham; Montine McNulty, executive director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association; chef Tim Morton; Simmons Bank official and food writer Rex Nelson; food writer Kat Robinson; Christina Shutt, director of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center; and state Historian Lisa Speer.


The first group of Hall of Fame inductees and award recipients will be recognized in a ceremony next spring.


The program was inspired by a similar program in Alabama, Hurst said.


Hutchinson noted that tourism is Arkansas’ No. 2 industry after agriculture.


“When people come and visit a state, what do they go back and talk about? What did you eat? What restaurants did you go to?” he said. “So it’s really a supplement to tourism that’s going to be a very important part of marketing our state as well and remembering our history, our culture and what we enjoy.”


Hutchinson, Hurst and first lady Susan Hutchinson concluded the news conference by cutting and serving slices of apple pie, the governor’s favorite dessert.


The governor said apple pie is not has favorite dessert to make, however.


“I make a mean bananas Foster,” he said