by Max Brantley
Lee Richardson, the acclaimed executive chef at the Capital Hotel, has left the hotel, friends inform me.
Michael Chaffin, the hotel general manager, said Richardson resigned Friday but he could not expand on the departure. "He did a fabulous job for us," Chaffin said. "We wish him well." Chaffin said one of Richardson's strengths was the team he built and they remained in place. "We're set to go," he said. He's not ready yet to name a successor as executive chef.
I have been unable to reach Richardson. (But see UPDATE)
Richardson, whose New Orleans roots were reflected in every thing from the Capital Bar luncheon menu to upscale Ashley's to private events, was an advocate of local ingredients and fresh ways of using staples — his rice-coated catfish, fried black-eyed peas and pimiento cheese spread with homemade crackers come readily to mind.
He'd been a regional finalist in the annual James Beard competition for the country's top chefs. His leadership had made the Capital Hotel a culinary destination. Details mattered. I was on hand recently when a pickup truck full of enormous — about 10 per pound — fresh shrimp arrived from the Texas Gulf coast, just a few hours off the boat. I bought a few pounds myself from the merchants, who'd parked near the Capital loading dock.
Richardson oversaw the hotel's expensive kitchen, which included equipment for every possible purpose, including in-house smoking of charcuterie. He'd encouraged Arkansas producers, promoted farm-to-table dinners and been featured in national magazines.
I await with interest the next phase of development at the hotel.
UPDATE: On June 13, I received a note from Richardson on his departure.
I've had a great experience in Little Rock, and at the Capital Hotel. What has been accomplished here is well beyond my early imagination. This decision has been extraordinarily difficult to make; philosophically and creatively my professional and personal identities are deeply embedded within the architecture and framework of the Capital's branded foodservice program. It’s continued success is a part of my own future and I wish the Capital and all of the great people there nothing but the best. While I find the idea of furthering my professional identity without a continued connection to that past a difficult choice to make, I also recognize a need to expand the breadth and depth of my own horizon.
For now, I'm focused on the immediate continuity of my family's livelihood, and long-term prosperity. I've always had designs on developing a portfolio of concepts around town. I've made Little Rock my home. My family loves it here and my feelings about Arkansas are both well known and widely published. If the same sort of Providence is on my side, as it was following Hurricane Katrina; that just may be how things work out. But, making a solid break to allow for full time consideration and development of ideas, things will need to take form rather quickly. Meanwhile I will be actively pursuing opportunities out of state. I'm simply ready for a new project…or three.