It’s now official: The Capital Hotel has identified its new executive chef, Joël Antunes.
Chef Antunes is known stateside for his restaurants JOEL and, in a later incarnation, Joël Brasserie in Atlanta, as well as a later stint in New York City at the Plaza Hotel’s stuffy The Oak Room. (The latter ended badly, but we won’t hold it against him. Stylistic conflicts with hotel management are reported to have been an issue, and New York reviewers are a fussy lot, so we hear.)
Earlier in his career, Antunes led the Ritz Carlton, Buckhead restaurant to a Mobil Five-Star rating. Before that, he earned his first Michelin star at Les Saveurs in London, and his formative experience ranges from the Le Normandie restaurant in Bangkok’s Mandarin Oriental hotel to early tutelage under such heady French chefs as Paul Bocuse.
Chef Antunes (a Basque surname, pronounced an-tu-NESS) hails from France but spent much of his youth in sub-Saharan Africa, where his father worked for Michelin — the tire folks, not the restaurant reviewers, although their provenance is the same. He is known for a gilded French style, rich in flavor and often achingly heavy with artistic adornment, but also often showing influences of Asia and Italy.
While in Atlanta, Antunes won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef in the Southeast region in 2005. He seems to be widely regarded as an excellent chef and visionary restaurateur. How his ornate French style will fit into his predecessor Lee Richardson’s legacy of Arkansas-rooted Southern elegance is yet to be determined.
Here’s hoping that Little Rock and the Capital Hotel are indeed a good match for Chef Antunes. We look forward to trying his wares soon.