Joël Antunes speaks
It hasn’t been an easy week for Joël Antunes, the James Beard Award-winning French chef who left his famous namesake restaurant in Atlanta to take over the kitchen of a Manhattan classic — the Oak Room in the Plaza Hotel.
First, the Oak Room announced it was severing ties with him following a pair of bad reviews and a difficult time opening this high-high-high luxury concept in a crashing economy. Then, the Atlanta restaurant that bears his name felt compelled to put out a press release to quash any rumors that he might return to his old sauteeing grounds.
Antunes called me to talk over the weeks events, and he sounded…copacetic. Ready for the next challenge. Maybe even a little relieved. He also revealed that he hadn’t been actively running the Oak Room kitchen for the past five weeks, well before the announcement of his separation. He also says at that time (just following the New York Times review), he made the decision to leave — he wasn’t pushed out the door.
Here’s his take on the recent turn of events:
- On the job in retrospect: “It was a great experience in many ways, and when something like this happens, you have to look at the positive part.”
- On being responsible for New York’s most luxurious, truffles-and-foie-gras menu: “It really wasn’t the right time or right concept. After the last few months with the bad economy, people want something more simple, more fun.”
- On being an outsider in New York: “I think it’s very difficult coming from out of town. My friend Susur [Lee, Toronto's most acclaimed chef] has also had a difficult time here.”
- On living in New York and maybe having to move: “It’s a great city. I came at the wrong time, but it’s a great city. But I’ve also liked living in Bangkok, and London and Atlanta. I could live somewhere else if that’s where I end up. I’m not the kind of guy who drives Ferraris or Porsches. I like running and cycling. If the right opportunity comes anywhere I’d be happy to speak to the people. I could come back to London or Atlanta.”
- On his life right now: “I still love cooking. I go to the market and cook every day at home.”
- On seeing another Atlanta culinary great who decamped to New York: “I just saw [Guenter] Seeger last week, and he’s doing great. He’s doing some consulting for a department store in Canada for now, and he looks very, very happy.”
- On his prospects: “I’ve got two legs, two arms and 30 years experience cooking. I’m sure I’m going to find something.”