Chef Michael Williams has always gone for the gold. He graduated from the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing in 1992 with a gold medal and a culinary degree, but that only whet the appetite of the competitive chef. Williams has won more than a dozen gold medals in culinary competitions both national and international, including a gold medal at the IKA Culinary Olympics held in Erfurt, Germany, in 2008.
Williams, executive chef at Izakaya, a modern Japanese pub at Borgata Casino & Spa, has been a chef at various outlets in the casino since 2005 and has acted as a culinary recruiter for Borgata in the United States, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America. Williams took advantage of his travels at home and overseas to hone his craft by taking classes at the International School of Confectionary Arts in Gaithersburg, Md.; Le Cordon Bleu in Paris; ADF-Alain Ducasse Formation in Argenteuil, France; Le Cordon Bleu in Ontario, Canada; The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.; and the Blue Elephant School of Royal Thai Cuisine in Bangkok.
Acting as a consulting chef for Air Force One, the presidential airplane, Williams provided culinary training for the presidential aircrew along with menu and recipe development.
A family man, Williams might just as easily be found dining with his wife and two children at Carrabba's Italian Grille or the BoneFish Grill, both in Egg Harbor Township.
Question: Do you cook at home?
Answer: Yes, when time allows, of course. I enjoy outdoor grilling and usually grill year-round. My experiments with exotic spices, new spice-rub blends and marinades never end. I grill just about anything that can be cooked in a conventional oven. I love using various planks or cedar-wood paper at home to impart subtle smoky flavor in my food. Wine barrel staves work well if you can find them. At Izakaya, we use both hickory and cherry wood on the robatayaki (Japanese barbecue) station.
Q: What kind of eater are you, snooty or humble?
A: I guess that depends on who you talk to. I consider myself a humble eater. I won't make an issue out of poor service standards or food quality, I just won't go back. I think there is something to learn from every dining experience. At just 3 years old, my son Ryan has had his share of fine dining, from truffles and foie gras to the freshest seafood from around the globe. I think he's going to be the snooty one in years to come.
Q: Which foods are your guilty pleasure?
A: That's easy, I love sweets. Coconut cream pie and creme brulee are my favorites. Hide the Oreo's and Swedish Fish too.
Q: Where do you go when you go out to dine?
A: I truly enjoy Vetri in Philadelphia, DB Bistro and Balthazar in New York. A local favorite has to be Capital Grille in Cherry Hill, where my meal is always consistent.
Q: What is the best meal you have ever eaten?
A: My most memorable meals were at the Michelin-star restaurants Alain Ducasse at Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris and at Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain. Although the four-and-a-half hour meal at Ducasse was a bit lengthy, it was worth every minute. I had an amazing lunch at La Perla restaurant in San Sebastian as well. They served fresh scorpion fish, local raised lamb, great wine and a breathtaking view of La Concha Bay. It was very tranquil.
Q: Which local chef is doing food you admire?
A: I always enjoy eating at Wolfgang Puck American Grille. Executive chef Aram Mardigian and sous chef Kyle Johnson take great pride in their craft. The charcuterie is simply amazing. It's a dying art that these chefs are truly passionate about. My recommendations - order the Spicy Lamb Chorizo Pizza or the Pan-roasted Casco Bay Cod and don't share.
Q: How would you describe your personal cooking "style?"
A: My true love, I would have to say is French bistro, using local and seasonal produce. The focus is on flavor, quality and great conversation. However, my style is much more global. I love to travel and it is during these travels I find the ingredients, flavors, cultures and world markets that influence my cooking. I have always had an interest in Asian cuisine. Every country and region has its own identity while, at the same time, sharing common influences. Each dish is rich in history. At Izakaya, our focus is on Japanese cuisine. We create modern presentations while keeping a classical approach to our cooking. Our service is tapas style with each dish balanced with sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavors.
Q: Do you watch any culinary shows on TV?
A: My personal time is dedicated to my wife, Anjeanette, and my two children, Ryan and Sienna. If I do watch TV, I tend to focus on any type of competition that I come across. Anyone who knows me, will tell you I love competition. For me, competition is healthy and vital to growing as a professional. It keeps me stimulated, focused and alive. Competitions are a great way to hone your craft, keeping yourself current with trends and modern techniques while still focusing on the basic fundamentals of cooking. Competitions help you re-evaluate what you do in everyday kitchen life, allowing you to see what your peers are doing and how others interpret a specific style of philosophy of food. At Borgata, we as chefs benefit from each other's feedback and constructive criticism, providing a great culinary environment to work.
Miso Black Cod
6 6-ounce black cod fillets, skin on, sliced on bias
1/2 cup sake
1/2 cup shiro miso paste (white soybean paste)
1/2 cup mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
6 tablespoons sugar
In a small mixing bowl, whisk the sake, miso paste, mirin and sugar thoroughly. Place bowl over a double boiler and cook lightly for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and chill until use. Blot cod fillets with a paper towel until dry. In a storage container or pan, place half of the miso mixture down first, followed by a paper towel. Place the cod fillets on the paper towel. Top the fillets with an additional paper towel, followed by the remaining miso mixture so that the cod marinade will indirectly marinate the fillets. Allow fillets to marinate over night. Pre- heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove cod fillets from marinade wiping off any excess marinade. Bake cod fillets for 12 to15 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. Remove pin bones from fillets. Place the fillets under a broiler skin side down for 2 to 3 minutes until fillets have caramelized.
Cucumber, Grapefruit and Radish Salad
•2 avocado, peeled, cored
•2 teapoons yuzu juice (Japanese citrus)
•1 English cucumber, flesh only, julienned, then diced
•2 grapefruit or blood oranges, peeled, segmented
•3 red or watermelon radish, fine julienne
•1 tablespoon chives, finely minced
•3 tablespoons grapeseed Oil
•1 tablespoon Banyuls wine vinegar
•1 teaspoon salt
•1 teaspoon togarashi spice (Japanese blend)
•1/2 ounce micro cilantro
In a food processor, add avocado and yuzu juice pureeing until smooth. Adjust seasoning with salt.
In a small mixing bowl, toss the fruit segments, cucumber, radish, chives, oil and vinegar together. Adjust seasoning with salt.
To plate, place the avocado puree on a serving plate with a palate knife, top with togarashi spice. Top the puree with segment salad. Garnish with micro cilantro. Serve with Miso Black Cod Fillet.