Video: Capital Hotel's New Chef Joël Antunes Cooking for Growth

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 12:00 am  

“When people work for me in the kitchen, I want harmony. I want something very smooth. I don’t want stress because when people are stressed, they don’t work very well,” Antunes said. “When you’re well organized, it is easy.”

He didn’t specify any new dishes he’ll be cooking, but said the Capital’s leadership hasn’t limited him.

“If I do a very nice dish with a little bit of Japanese influence, people will love it,” he said. “I think they trust me. I think I can do what I want if the restaurant is busy. When you have business and the business works very well, everyone is happy. If any restaurant is busy, you like [it] or you don’t like [it], but they do something right because they’re busy. If I make this place busy like the Bar & Grill, I’m sure they’re going to love me.”

Southern food will continue to be important at Ashley’s, as will extremely fresh ingredients and local food suppliers, he said. “If I change everything, people will shoot me,” he said with a laugh.

Prices won’t change, though Antunes might create a small tasting menu with new, cheaper dining options to attract more patrons.

“I don’t want Ashley’s to be a special events restaurant,” he said. “I want the restaurant to be busy every day.”

The Hire

Antunes first traveled to Little Rock in September to meet the Capital’s leadership, then returned shortly thereafter to cook up a nine-course tasting menu for the hotel managers and ownership to try.

Warren Stephens, Little Rock financier and owner of the Capital Hotel, was among the hotel leaders who weighed in on Antunes’ hiring.

Antunes was among “not many” candidates considered for the position, said Michael Chaffin, the hotel’s chief operating officer. The hotel did not conduct an international search.

“We basically made people aware that we had an opening. … This would be a coveted job in many ways,” Chaffin said. “We were looking for someone with experience, experience specifically with hotels.”

The Capital’s leadership judged that Antunes was a good fit for the city of Little Rock and for the hotel, he said.



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