By Frances Y. Spencer, The Drum contributing writer
BATON ROUGE, La. — The world was recently introduced to the Baton Rouge area’s newest television star. He’s been involved in some hot, steamy scenes and then created quite a stir. Brandon “Chef B” Williams has expanded his brand to the Food Network after his debut appearance on “Supermarket Stakeout: Greeks, Sweets, Open-face Eats.”
The popular cable channel, formed in 1993, has been the backdrop to stardom for cooking legends Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, and Paula Deen so, when talent scouts came sniffing for the talented Baton Rouge native, he had one idea: this must be a joke.
A Food Network casting agent sent a direct message to Williams and he avoided the inquiry like a piece of gas station sushi. “They first reached out to me at the beginning of March of last year,” Williams said. “I didn’t respond until the end of April, because I really didn’t believe it was them, right?”
A year fraught with a pandemic and tragedies was the opposite for Williams. Good things were happening and when doors closed, even better opportunities were waiting immediately. After months of COVID restrictions, the “Food Network prank” came knocking two more times. “They reached back out to me again in August of last year asking me if I still interested because they had plans to start filming the show again,” he said.
Williams felt the heartache of a failed restaurant venture and landed a chef’s position with L’Auberge Casino that was quite promising. When the cards lined up in his favor, he had to chose between the L’Auberge position and television stardom. He took the gamble and agreed to become a contestant on Supermarket Stakeout.
The cooking show mixes one-part cooking skill with one-part luck. Celebrity chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli hosts the show that pits four chefs in a competitive pop-up kitchen outside a grocery store. Each round is assigned a theme and the chefs “stalk” shoppers as they left the store and made attempts to buy ingredients from the strangers’ grocery bags.
The skill challenge was easy. Williams trained in his nanny’s kitchen before his classic gourmet training at the Louisiana Culinary Arts Institute. Lady luck was not as kind when the chef was left to create a fruit-theme dessert with Fig Newtons and a box of Fruity Pebbles.
Williams showed the artistry of his gourmet training in the first round themed “It’s Greek to Me.” He took a bag of mystery and created honey roasted baklava. All the shopping and cooking was done in the parking lot and even when the ingredients were unfriendly, Williams got very high marks from the judges for presentation and creativity.
Life’s ups and downs prepared Williams, a private chef, caterer, and culinary arts instructor, for his moment in a Los Angeles parking lot. The Culinary Arts Institute has opened some notable doors for his craft from Louisiana-based ventures to the celebrity diners of the Augusta National Golf Tournament.
When he was a very young man, he helped an aunt with a catering business. He stepped out on his own in 2008 and established Big B’s Barbecue, a food truck on a busy corner or Airline Highway. It was a new concept and helped pave the way for similar business models. “That was how that whole thing started,” he said. “And I never turned around. I just said that I wanted to keep going.”
Honing his skills and developing successful business models can’t hold a candle to the rewarding efforts of teaching and passing on the craft. Williams finished culinary school in 2018 and secured a position at Broadmoor High School as a Culinary Arts instructor. The ProStart program offers classes and a certification program for high school students that prepares them for the workforce immediately after graduation. “Once they graduate, they can go straight to the industry, and they don’t have to get minimum wage jobs,” Williams said.
When Williams looked into the camera, he realized how many of his current and future students would be looking at him and being inspired to seek their own success. Chef B might give them their start, but he knows his students make him better in return. “Even though I went to culinary school, even though I’m classically trained, by me teaching it, it reinforces everything that I learned,” he said. “I learn something new every day because I have to sit with the information, I have to study the information, because in order for me to teach the information, I have to literally absorbed information, which makes me a better chef.”
Recasts of “Greeks, Sweets, Open-face Eats” can be found on Amazon Prime Video