Williams’ prize for winning Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell? A job at Culina, with its stunning indoor-outdoor design and this lush garden terrace.
Mette Williams certainly didn’t need to go on TV to find a new job. She already had a good one, as executive chef at Areal in Santa Monica, CA. Even better, she had a resumé that included eight years of experience working for Wolfgang Puck and Lee Hefter. Still, the 33-year-old couldn’t pass up a chance to test herself on Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell.
Williams aced it, and her reward was the executive chef job at Culina, Modern Italian, an award-winning restaurant at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. She started in January, two months before the show first aired on the Food Network, and recently chatted about the new job and why she went on TV to get it.
RH: How’s the new gig?
Williams: The transition has been good and I’ve gotten to know the current menu. There are some staples that won’t change. We’ve only been open three years, but there are some favorites already. I’ve gotten to know my staff and the whole hotel, and just really played around with the food, honing my Italian-inspired creations. This is the first Italian restaurant I’ve worked at.
RH: Does that make it hard?
Williams: Not really, I’ve got a heavy Mediterranean influence after working with Wolfgang Puck for so long. And I’ve been making my own pastas and sauces since I’ve been cooking.
RH: What are some of those favorites you’re keeping?
Williams: We’ve got a classic spaghetti dish with a really great, basic tomato sauce you don’t want to mess with. And a grilled rib eye—I don’t know why anyone would want to change that. Those are two items that aren’t going anywhere, as well as the corn ravioli.
RH: Do you feel any pressure taking over such a popular and acclaimed restaurant?
Williams: At times. Culina has a dedicated clientele with high standards, so there’s pressure to maintain the integrity of the food, while incorporating new dishes.
RH: What are some of your new creations?
Williams: I’ve tried to bring in a little more spice that comes from the surrounding countries, like a mussel dish—Zuppetta di Cozze—with a Moroccan sauce, fennel and garlic. We also added pasta with ricotta and egg yolk—Tortellone di Ricotta e Polpa di Granchio—and an Alaskan halibut over a zucchini puree—Ippoglosso.
RH: How did you end up on Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell?
Williams: I was recruited by the Food Network and it was kind of a last-minute decision. Taping was going to start within four to five days. I thought, “Oh my gosh, do I want to do the show?” I had a solid job, but I’d never been in a cooking challenge. I had been thinking about doing Top Chef, but being gone six to eight weeks wasn’t in the cards with a young son. So I thought just to get my feet wet, why not do this challenge. It was in L.A., and filming was just two days long.
RH: What was the show like?
Williams: There were four competitors, and our first challenge was to make seafood pizza. You’re in a restaurant you’ve never been in before and they say, “This is where your produce is, this is where you work,” and that was it. No walking around, just go. It was a free-for-all. The second was a four-ingredient challenge and then the last was a dinner service for 60 to 100 people. We had just a few minutes to create a menu with two pastas, two entrees, two appetizers and one dessert. Then we met the staff and had a 15-minute sit down with them, and then only three hours to prep. It was like, “I don’t know how you work, but don’t [mess] up my food.” They were great, but it was intense.