Oddfellows Chef Brady Williams Learned to Cook While Playing Hockey in Wichita Falls
In part one of this week's Three-Course Meal series we hear from chef Brady Williams of Oddfellows, who discusses his first job at a greasy-spoon diner, what his grandmother taught him about cooking and what lead him to Dallas after playing hockey.
Sara Kerens Mac and Cheese at Oddfellows.
How old are you?
When was your first job in a restaurant?
My grandparents owned a restaurant in Seal Beach, California, and growing up I'd go there during the summer to help them. It was just a greasy spoon diner, but had a really interesting clientele because it was next to a huge retirement community, so I really got to know a lot of the customers. I did a little bit of everything like bus tables, take orders, whatever needed to be done. Except for cooking. I never cooked.
Was that your initial inspiration to become a chef?
No, I hated it back then. Well, I enjoyed getting to know the people -- the communal aspect of the restaurant. It was like a second home to people. But, I would basically just go there to work during the summer to make some money, it wasn't about cooking.
When did you start cooking?
I lived in Wichita Falls for a couple of years while playing for the hockey team there, and really, there just weren't any good places to go eat. So, I started cooking for myself.
What position did you play?
I was a goalie.
How does a hockey player hone his cooking skills in Wichita Falls?
Well, there were no good restaurants and I just found that I enjoyed cooking more than going out. And I started reading online forums and websites where chefs in the industry with real knowledge were contributing and answering questions. Cooking really became a craft to me then.
But, again, how does one transition from playing hockey in small town to becoming fascinated by the craft cooking?
I think it started before then. A big part of cooking for me is the communal aspect of food. I have an Asian heritage and food is such a huge part of our family. We'd have these huge gatherings where everything was based around all this beautiful food and my grandmother would set me up at a station in the kitchen and make me wash rice for 45 minutes. Honestly, that's probably my first experience in the kitchen -- washing rice for my grandmother. She taught me that for every plate you had to pay attention to every detail.
What brought you to Dallas?
After hockey I moved to Dallas with the intent of attending culinary school, but once I got here I wasn't real excited by that idea. Instead, I worked for a private chef who then set me up at Jeffrey Hobbs at Suze, where I worked for about year.
After less then a year you landed a spot at one of the nicest restaurants in the city?
I just really worked hard for them. I kept my head down and learned everything I could.
What did you learn in your time at Suze?
Jeffrey taught me about the importance of preparation, organization, speed and cleanliness. He was an awesome guy. And, there's no amount of reading that prepares you for the technical aspects when you get into a high-volume kitchen. It's a different game. Just the organization alone and being prepared every night, and being clean was so important and that's what Jeffrey taught me.
Anything at all like washing rice for your grandmother?
Yeah, now I understand why she had me spend that time washing rice. Because there was only one way to do it, the right way. Whether it be rice for a rice bowl or tuna, it was all treated the same way. She taught me not to pay more attention to the tuna because it was worth more, but to give the same amount of attention to everything. Everything had to be done perfectly. I definitely learned both of those things from Suze and, without even realizing it, cooking with my grandmother.
When you came over to Oddfellows, one of the first things you did was help them create their dinner menu. That's a pretty big job for someone so new to the industry. Was it a lot of pressure?
Yes, because the concept was somewhat undefined. There was a basic idea and they gave me some parameters. We really just wanted a well rounded balanced concept and to offer good value at an approachable level. There were certain choices we wanted to offer at a certain price point. We started with the fried chicken and sort of moved on from there.