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What's cookin' with Capital alumni? 

Lee Richardson

A New Orleans native who spent time in the kitchens of celebrated chefs Emeril Lagasse, Kevin Graham and John Besh, serving for a time as chef de cuisine at Besh's famed Restaurant August, Richardson came to Little Rock in 2006 to reopen the Capital Hotel as executive chef. His elevated take on Southern comfort food earned him annual James Beard Award nominations and wide praise. He left the hotel in 2012, citing "a need to expand the breadth and depth of my own horizon." Since then, he's talked about Arkansas food culture at the Clinton School, successfully lobbied the Arkansas General Assembly to allow the sale of unpasteurized milk, and cooked for special events. He's said he and his wife and daughter are settled in Little Rock. There've long been rumors about what shape his next restaurant project will take, but all he'd tell the Times this week is that he's working on something new in Little Rock but is not ready to share details.

Brian Deloney
Chef/owner Maddie's Place

Deloney, a Little Rock native, returned home in 2007 to help Richardson reopen the hotel. After attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York, he'd spent almost a decade working for Emeril Lagasse, first at NOLA in the French Quarter and then at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas. He stayed on at the Capital as executive sous chef for around a year before leaving to open Maddie's, the popular, casual, Louisiana-influenced restaurant in Riverdale. "We're really hitting our stride," Deloney said of Maddie's, now entering its fifth year in business. As for expansion, of Maddie's or a new concept, Deloney said he's always got an eye on the market should the right situation appear.

Alexis Jones
Chef/owner Natchez

After stints at The Mansion on O Street in Washington, D.C., and culinary school in Chicago, Jones, a native of Madison, Miss., took a position at the Capital Hotel. Among other roles, she served as lunch chef at Ashley's, worked banquets and supervised the hotel's vegan dishes, soups and the daily amuse bouche at Ashley's. She left the hotel in the spring of 2012 and opened Natchez in the ground floor of the Tower Building. Her self-billed "reinvented Southern food" in a "retro fine-diner atmosphere" (the former home of Your Mama's Good Food) has attracted a devoted following.

Travis McConnell
Chef/butcher-for-hire with Butcher and Public

With a stint in the Bay Area in between, Conway native McConnell did two tours at the Capital Hotel. He joined the hotel initially in 2007 as sous chef in charge of the Capital Hotel Bar and Grill, which under his leadership quickly became one of downtown Little Rock's most popular lunch spots, and returned to the same position in 2012 after Richardson offered him a 12-month contract. Since that expired last September, McConnell has been working full time on developing and raising capital for Butcher & Public, a combination butcher shop and cafe he wants to locate in downtown Little Rock. In the meantime, he's hosting special events and teaching butchery classes.

Jeffrey Owen
Chef at Ciao Baci

Owen, a Little Rock native, cut his teeth working just about everywhere within the Capital Hotel's kitchens. He worked in the bar and grill. He did banquets. He spent time in Ashley's. For a good portion of his four-year tenure, from 2008 until 2012, he was a roundsman, filling in at whichever station he was needed. Now, he's the much-acclaimed chef at Ciao Baci, where he worked as sous chef before his time at the Capital. He's just rolled out a spring menu; look for dinner features to start to change more frequently, too.

Moved on

David Thomas, former chef de cuisine at Ashley's, now serves the same role at The Bazaar by Jose Andres in Miami's South Beach. Chef Tandra Watkins, who worked at the Capital from pre-opening until last year and received a James Beard nomination last year, now works alongside Thomas as pastry chef at Bazaar. Mountain View native Cassidee Dabney, who worked as sous chef in Ashley's, returned to the Tennessee resort Blackberry Farm, where she worked before coming to the Capitol, to become executive sous chef.

Moving on up: cooks to watch

Micah Klasky has been sous chef at Maddie's for two years after spending four at the Capital. While McConnell was in California, Klasky supervised the hotel's charcuterie program. Meanwhile, South on Main's sous chef, Phillip Schaaf, and pastry chef, Matthew Lowman, are both alumni, as are two of The Hive's sous chefs, Dan Bufford and Robert Pohland.

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