Mette Williams won the executive chef job at Culina on the show "Chef… (Courtesy of Mette Williams )
What's a chef gotta do to land a job? Mette Williams competed against three other contestants on national television to win the title of executive chef at Culina at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. The former chef of Areal in Santa Monica emerged the champion on the Food Network show "Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell." Each week four candidates, prodded by the bossy, electro-haired Burrell, compete for an executive chef job.
Thursday's episode was taped over a few days in early December, and Williams, the only female contestant, has been cooking at Culina since January, keeping a low profile until the show aired. But now the Kentuckian, who moved to California and worked with Wolfgang Puck at Spago and Cut, is stepping into the spotlight.
So, how and why did you become a 'Chef Wanted' contestant?
I was currently employed at Areal in Santa Monica when I got a call from the Food Network. They said they wanted to get a female chef in the running for this new episode they were filming and needed to know if I wanted to do it by the next morning.... I just decided, why not? I had never done a competition before, I'm 33, I had a job if I don't make it; what do I have to lose? It was a good challenge.
How was the experience?
The first day was a little difficult because there was so much stop and go for filming. It really took a toll on your energy. You'd finish one challenge, wait for a couple hours, sit and think about it, then compete in another challenge. To be timed to do something and compete, you definitely have to have a lot of adrenaline.
What was the toughest challenge?
I think the hardest thing to do was the dinner service challenge. There were three challenges, and the last was running the full dinner service. That was the most challenging because you had to create a small menu, not just a couple dishes for judges, and you're working with people you weren’t familiar with in an environment you weren't familiar with. I only had overnight to think about it. For the service over 100 people sit down within a half hour of each other. It's very busy and they definitely put you under the gun.
What are your plans for the Culina menu?
We've kept the menu the same until the show aired. What I want to do is put more of my stamp on it. Put more of the food of the areas surrounding Italy into it. I guess it's more modern Italian. And reflective of California, which has a similar Mediterranean climate and so much fresh produce.
What are some of the dishes?
Ravioli with ricotta and egg yolk with crab ragout. Bruschetta of marinated sardines, pickled chiles and burrata. Steamed mussels with roasted tomatoes, fennel and Moroccan chermoula.... I’d never worked in a strictly Italian restaurant, but I worked with Wolfgang Puck for many years and there were a lot of Italian influences -- fresh pastas, pizzas by hand.
What did you learn from Anne Burrell?
It was so chaotic. She said stay focused, use strong flavors, keep the plates clean. And I guess because it's television, she also told me, "You’re acting a little boring, have some personality. We can see you can cook, let’s see you react." I proved to myself that I can put my neck on the line and cook the food I know and love and get rewarded for it.
Culina at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, 300 S. Doheny Drive, Los Angeles, (310) 860-4000, culinarestaurant.com.
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