Tyler Williams may have grown up in the small town of Okemos, Michigan, but he didn’t grow up with a small-town palate. As a child, Williams became friends with the son of a Lebanese family and quickly became enamored with the culture and cuisine. And as he grew up, Williams was enthusiastic about all things new and different in food and culture, eventually studying cultural geography at Arizona State University to satiate his inward wanderlust, topping it off with a degree from Western Culinary Institute.
After culinary school, a worldly Williams moved to Portland, Oregon, to work at Genoa, where he rotated menu leadership with two other chefs. But his culinary experience really took off when he headed to Chicago. After working for several months in the front of the house at 2005 Chicago Rising Star Homaro Cantu’s Moto, he took a position at Graham Elliot, where he was inspired by the chef’s whimsical and nostalgic style. Williams later worked as chef de cuisine at Gemini Bistro, where he defined his own playful, global approach.
Williams came to Atlanta to work as sous chef in Anne Quartrano’s fine dining house Bacchanalia in the summer of 2010. Even though he hasn’t lived in Atlanta long, Williams has quickly found a home in the eclecticism of the ATL culinary scene. As chef of Quatrano’s meat-centric Abattoir (literally defined as a slaughterhouse), Williams brings his vivacious personality and open-minded palate to the fore, with fun dishes like root beer barbecue sauce-laced wagyu beef belly and seafood sausage on monkey bread. And with a dedication to local, organic proteins and vegetables (Williams is a member of Slow Food USA and Georgia Organics) it’s addictive and classically farm to table, aka pure Atlanta.
Interview with 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Tyler Williams
Katherine Sacks: What made you interested in cooking?
Tyler Williams: I grew up with a lot of Lebanese and Arabic friends in Michigan. I would go over to their houses, and the moms would make me kebabs. I had never seen anything like that. I started getting into it, started seeking out ethnic restaurants. My first job was at an Oregon golf club. I worked the burger station in between the nines, it was the highest paying job I ever had. When I got promoted to prep cook, I got a huge decrease in pay; I almost didn't want to do it.
KS: What is your style as a chef?
TW: I think there is a lot of ethnic influence and I try to bring a lot of personality into each dish. Lots of texture, different pops of flavor. I avoid the mundane.
KS: How are you part of the local culinary community?
TW: We do so many events; we host events and participate. I did March of Dimes two days ago. I wish I had more time; there are so many opportunities within the company. I also have to give my fiancé some time; at the moment any time I'm not at work I'm planning the wedding.
KS: Do you suggest culinary school to people interested in getting into cooking?
TW: It’s too expensive. I think people should just show up in a restaurant and say they'll work for free. If they work hard, the chef will start paying them eventually. I just can't stand to see people with kids pay all that money to go to culinary school. If you are doing it in place of college, then it depends on if you can afford it. I went to college before I went to culinary school at Arizona State, where I studied cultural geography.
KS: What are you most proud of?
TW: I think I'm a really hard worker. I’ve always been a really hard worker. If you have a relentless pursuit of your goals, if you work hard enough, you can get there. People notice when you work your butt off.
KS: Where will we find you in five years?
TW: I’m not quite sure. I always want to go back to Portland, but that’s more like 10 years. And starting a family.