‘I love a challenge’ says Intrepid chef Antwan
Bermuda was on Antwan Ellis’s radar long before the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club’s multimillion dollar transformation created an upscale restaurant.
As a child the Barbadian chef’s family tried to visit on a cruise ship but it didn’t work out; the same thing happened with his own efforts when he was older.
And then he learnt about Intrepid, a new restaurant at the luxury Hamilton hotel that was in search of an executive chef de cuisine.
“When the job became available, a recruiting firm contacted me and I pretty much knew it was a done deal for me. I’d always wanted to come here, I would say since 1995, so once he contacted me and let me know, I was kind of all in.”
Intrepid, a steak, seafood and raw bar restaurant, replaced Marcus’ Bermuda, which Marcus Samuelsson opened in 2015.
Following immediately behind the celebrity chef didn’t faze Mr Ellis at all.
“I guess I kind of live up to the Intrepid name – kind of fearless, pretty courageous. So even though it was previously run by [an acclaimed chef] I worked for [acclaimed] chefs and I’ve always been in that circle. All of my previous work was with tons of people who were at the top of the game. I kind of landed at the top of the game in the US, it was just more in the corporate world and not in the eye of the public.
“So I wasn't exactly scared or anything. I saw it as more of a challenge and a good challenge at that. I also wanted to be able to show people that you don't have to be a global name to be really good, you just have to be good.”
His career stems from the interest he developed in healthy eating as a teenager.
“I was wondering how I could satisfy my nutrition through food as opposed to taking medicine, taking pills and so on. I wanted to figure out to be very healthy and have a good life and that's how I really got into cooking. I started out taking a food and nutrition class in school and I realised I was good at cooking; cooking was fun. I got really passionate about it.”
Mr Ellis enrolled in culinary school in Barbados, and in the Bahamas earned a bachelor’s degree in hotel management.
Since 2007 he has worked in Florida. After a decade with Walt Disney World hospitality he joined Todd English’s Bluezoo restaurant as chef de cuisine. He was most recently the executive chef at Shula’s Steak House and is bringing that talent to Intrepid.
“We aim to keep as much of the seafood local as possible because we're on an island, there's plenty of fresh fish here. And we want to be able to support the island and stay as local as possible with everything that we do.”
When considering the job, he also loved that Intrepid was a completely new restaurant.
“I'm always up for a challenge. I love taking on an endeavour that keeps me motivated, that keeps me wanting to express my craft and my talent. Bermuda was one of those places that just spoke to me, it pulled me with the same excitement I felt when I first moved to the US.
“And anyone who knows me personally knows that I have to have a challenge.”
His hope is to also inspire the next generation to consider a career in culinary arts.
“I want to be able to give back some of the goodness that has been given to me throughout my entire life. I believe in inspiring people. There are some people who think that [a career in hospitality] isn't exactly a road to the top. But when I was in the US especially, every aspect was amazing. Coming to Bermuda, a place as small as this, there have to be some people here who [are interested]. The next generation of culinary talent is coming up that I could inspire.”
The restaurant had a soft opening on July 14. Its official start was August 29.
“The response has been good. The food's been very well received. The service has been very well received. The atmosphere of the restaurant has been very well received,” Mr Ellis said.
“The ambience, the music, the cocktails, just the look of the staff – there's a beat, everyone is happy.”
As he sees it, the only problem is that people might have a problem deciding what to eat off the menu.
“We have something for everyone. We did a lot of research figuring out what would sit well with the local community. Even before the restaurant opened, my main thing was to get out and see what was around the island and in my view that was an extremely good experience. It’s a beautiful island and that lends itself to the expressions of what you see at this restaurant.”
The pork belly is a “personal favourite” but the “steaks are phenomenal”, the chef said.
“Anyone coming to dinner for the first time, take a chance. Order something that you wouldn’t normally eat. And if you have a question about it, we have a very knowledgeable staff that is willing to explain how the food tastes, the vision behind it, what you can expect.”