After chef Victor Casanova left Culina, Modern Italian at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills to open his own restaurant, he was replaced by newly appointed executive chef Mette Williams. Williams interviewed for this post in a very unique way — by brandishing her creativity, talent and vast restaurant experience (including time at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut and Spago in Beverly Hills) while competing on Food Network’s reality cooking competition show, Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell.
Clearly, her cooking chops impressed the panel of celebrity chefs and the general manager of the iconic Four Seasons hotel in L.A. — chef Mette is now settling into her new role overseeing the Culina kitchen. She brings a personal touch to a menu founded on the intersection of classic and modern Italian cuisine, while incorporating novel flavors from around the Mediterranean.
Congratulations on your new gig, chef Williams. Interviewing to be the new executive chef at Culina was not your typical process. Can you tell us what it was like competing on a reality cooking show on the Food Network for the job?
Chef Wanted was very intense. Dinner preparation for more than 100 guests, who all arrived at the same seating, and the competition between the other chefs, and having cameras around made it challenging, but I stayed calm and focused as best as I could. My favorite part was the gratification at the end that I’d really impressed the judges (Four Seasons general manager Mehdi Eftekari and Anne Burrell) and diners to become the new chef of Culina.
What’s your culinary background? Prior to Culina, where did you work?
I studied global cuisine at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. While in school, I received a position at Wolfgang Puck at Postrio and continued under Wolfgang’s umbrella for eight years. I also worked at Spago Beverly Hills, CUT, Sidebar and Areal.
As a pedigreed chef, what enticed you to sign up for a reality competition show to get the job at Culina?
I decided it was the right time to throw myself into a challenge. I wanted to experience being on a show like Chef Wanted, and was very excited to compete for the executive chef position at Culina. I also liked the fact that Culina is in Los Angeles, so I didn’t have to leave my son while filming.
Now that you’ve been named the new executive chef, what are some of the first things you’re looking to tackle on the job?
For my new spring debut menu at Culina, I want to use Mediterranean flavors with classic Italian cuisine. I love bold, bright, colorful flavors and I want people to say, “wow,” when they first try my creations. My vision is to incorporate flavors from the countries surrounding Italy in the Mediterranean into the existing menu, which will change seasonally. We are currently keeping the most popular dishes on the menu, such as the Spaghetti alla Chitarra but incorporating my new signature dishes, such as the sardine crostini and crab ravioli. We have been testing some of the new dishes as daily specials.
What menu changes will you be making? Do you have plans to completely overhaul the menu or just make slight adjustments to what exists?
I am doing the menu revisions in stages, rather than overhaul the entire menu, to keep our current, most popular dishes on the menu, while incorporating the new spring items and my new signature dishes, which I’m very proud of. Some of my new signature dishes include Zuppetta di Cozze with mussels, tomato confit, shallots, garlic, charmoula; Bruschetta di Sarde with marinated sardine crostini, pickled radish, Fresno chili, burrata and herb salad; and, Ravioli di Ricotta E Polpa Di Granchio — crab ravioli with herbed ricotta, parsley, lemon, crab, butter and basil.
Culina is famous in Los Angeles for its epic Sunday brunch. What, if anything, do you plan to change for that?
I love the existing, popular Sunday brunch. The brunch menu will mainly stay the same, but we always change the Farmers Market Salad Station seasonally, as well as for the holidays such as Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We will update some of the stations with new spring menu items, especially the Farmers Market salad station.
How has it been working with Ashley James, the executive chef of food and beverage for the Four Seasons Los Angeles?
I really adore executive chef Ashley James, as he has been so supportive and helpful throughout the process and my time here at Culina so far.
Lastly, on a rare night off, what are some of your favorite restaurants to eat at in L.A.? What kind of cuisine do you like to eat when you’re not working?
I love Daikokuya in Downtown L.A., which has the best ramen, very traditional with pork belly, egg, Daikon sprouts and onions. I also love the crème brulee gelato at Al Gelato.
Photo Courtesy of Randall Michelson