The Capital Hotel’s new executive chef, Joël Antunes, plans to bring some international flair to Ashley’s and the Capital Bar and Grill, but is committed to maintaining the local (and Southern) flavors that have made them city favorites.
“Little Rock is not going to change for me,” Antunes told us in an interview at Ashley’s before the holidays. “I have to change for Little Rock.”
That’s music to the ears of locals worried that Antunes might put too heavy of a French accent on the popular restaurants. Antunes has a stellar reputation and background (James Beard award, Michelin star) grounded in classic French cooking, but his turn at the Oak Room in New York’s storied Plaza Hotel ended in disaster, reportedly in part because of a refusal to offer more American dishes.
“I’m going to continue and learn the local influence because it’s very important,” Antunes said, adding that he had learned from the mistakes of the Oak Room. “My goal is to keep the strong influence of food from Arkansas and from Louisiana.” He said that he was eager to continue to make use of local farmers.
That’s not to say that we won’t also benefit from Antunes’s cosmopolitan expertise — including influences from Asia, where Antunes has done stints in Tokyo, Bangkok and Singapore. “It’s very nice if I can bring a little touch from Japan, from the south of France,” he said. “I think the world is smaller and smaller because people travel everywhere. I can bring my little twists and find a niche for our customers and bring happiness to the people.”