Meet the Chef: Gary Williams

Gary Williams is  chef/owner of De Ja Vu restaurant. 'Food brings folks together. I want to do that because I love people.'

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

Gary Williams is chef/owner of De Ja Vu restaurant. "Food brings folks together. I want to do that because I love people."

Title: Chef/owner De Ja Vu New Orleans Creole Soul Food and Vegetarian Restaurant.

Age: 47

Hometown: New Orleans

Who or what was your first cooking influence? My mother. We call her "Mama Gamble." Her passion for cooking, her passion for people, just enjoying what she did.

Gary Williams is  chef/owner of De Ja Vu restaurant. 'Food brings folks together. I want to do that because I love people.'

Photo by Michael Donahue

Gary Williams is chef/owner of De Ja Vu restaurant. "Food brings folks together. I want to do that because I love people."

What was the first thing you ever cooked or baked? Smothered pork chops with sweet peas and steamed rice. I was 12 years old.

What made you decide to become a chef and when was that? When I saw the looks on people's faces as a result of eating my mother's food. Food brings folks together. I want to do that because I love people.

What was your first food-related job? Quality Inn Midtown on Tulane Avenue in New Orleans. I was 15. I started as a busser and I trained in the kitchen.

What was something important that a fellow chef taught you? How to organize and how to just enjoy what you're doing. Taking care of people.

What is the Gary Williams style? Soul food with a Creole twist.

Describe a dish you created. Alligator Stew, a meal I put together when I moved here to Memphis. I'd been cooking over 32 years. Never seen a recipe. Just thought about my time in Miami and Las Vegas, New Orleans, California and blended seasonings -- a little henna curry with French bell peppers and onions, dry and fresh seasonings -- and the rest is history.

What do you cook or bake at home, if anything? We enjoy a good old sandwich and a cup of soup or some angel hair pasta. Some cranberry juice and I've got a meal.

What's your least favorite ingredient? Powdered oregano. It has such a strong flavor to me. It's bitter to me. I don't use it. I use fresh oregano or leaf oregano.

Contact Michael Donahue at 529-2797 or e-mail donahue@commercialappeal.com.

De Ja Vu New Orleans Creole Soul Food and Vegetarian Restaurant is at 936 Florida; 942-1400.

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