Tock: First off, how’s your day going so far?
Williams: So far, so good. We’re just playing a little catch-up. We’re doing a guest chef dinner series, so we had this restaurant called Horses in Los Angeles come up yesterday. It’s been a long week of hosting, and yeah, these dinners are a lot of fun, but you basically tear down your restaurant for one day, then put it back together.
Tock: Are you doing more in the future?
Williams: Yeah, this is a series of six. The next one will be in August with The Restaurant at Meadowood. They’re coming here and doing a full takeover.
Tock: That’s awesome. I’m sure it’s a lot of work.
Williams: Oh, yeah, it’s a ton of work, but it’s fun. It keeps it fresh and keeps everyone on their toes.
Tock: Shifting gears, I wanted to ask about your grandmother, Tomoko, because I know she’s been a source of inspiration.
Williams: For sure. I come from a multi-generational household. So, my grandmother played a major role in my formative upbringing. I lived with her and my mother growing up. The first restaurant I ever worked in was the restaurant that she and my grandfather ran for 15 years. So, yeah, it’s just someone that’s been a major consistent figure in my life, and we’re really close. That’s partially where the name, Tomo, comes from. It means ‘friend’ or ‘pal’ in Japanese. And so, out of the pandemic, we were asking ourselves, ‘What does it mean to be a friend?’ This question has framed everything that we do.
Tock: I was wondering about that, how do you interpret this question from the lens of a restaurant?
Williams: It’s more of a reflective question that we ask ourselves in terms of how we operate. I think it starts with, ‘How do we treat our staff?’ or ‘How do we treat each other?’ What does it mean to be a friend to the neighborhood, to the city? And then to the customers coming every night, how do we welcome them into our place and make them feel at home and comfortable so they can have a good time?
Tock: That’s a really nice sentiment. I’m curious how your time at Canlis shaped your philosophy as a chef?
Williams: It was a place that I went to, to figure out my style. You learn both from addition and omission, and over the course of my time there, there was so much to take away, especially from how to run a restaurant from a service and hospitality standpoint. And also, my time there definitely reinforced the idea that Seattle is home to me. I’m not from here, but moving here and really falling in love with the city and the product and the area and the people here, and knowing that this is where I wanted to do my own thing.
Tock: Where are you from?
Williams: I’m kind of from all over, but mostly Los Angeles.
Tock: What is something that you’re working on right now that you’re excited about, a dish or an ingredient?
Williams: It’s kind of an interesting time. A lot of things are late, but a lot of great products are hitting all at once. The wild berries here in the Northwest are one of my favorite things. There’s a propensity for berries. We just had salmonberries, tayberries, blackberries, currants. All these are falling into our lap. So, honestly, we’re doing a lot more cooking in the moment and cooking off the cusp because things are changing a lot more frequently, so that makes it fun, because we’re just working on things each day, and then putting it out there each night.
Tock: So when diners book a reservation, do they know what they’re getting into?
Williams: We have a simple menu online, but it’s subject to change. And again, we cook with the seasons. Some things happen day-to-day. It’s not like you make a reservation a month in advance and know what you’re getting. That’s not really how we operate. But our goal is to have people come in frequently and have a different experience every time.
“We’re doing a lot more cooking in the moment and cooking off the cusp.”
Tock: How would you describe your cooking style?
Williams: Simple and seasonal. I try not to be too overwrought. I think, over time, I’ve tried to pull back more and more and just let the ingredients shine, to showcase really great products at their peak.
Tock: What is your go-to meal on a day off?
Williams: Oh, that’s a good one. I find myself in the summertime, just wanting to eat raw fish, like shellfish. Especially being in the Northwest year-round, we have a pretty abundant supply of shellfish. Typically when we have visitors in town, that’s what we do, we go to one of the oyster farms or something, and just eat really clean and simply. I also love a burger.
Tock: What is something that you feel optimistic about right now?
Williams: I think there’s a lot of things to be excited about day-to-day, little things that you can be hopeful about. Like, today, the weather’s really nice, and we haven’t had great weather, and I think that puts me in a good mood. Also, I’m having a kid in October, so I’m pretty excited about that.
Tock: That’s amazing.
Williams: Yeah, my partner, Jessica, and I are expecting a child. This is my first kid, so I’m looking forward to bringing them into this world, and hopefully they leave it better than they found it, and they can get a lot out of it.
Tock: You’re going to be very busy.
William: It’s going to give some challenges. I’m fortunate that I have some peers who have done a really good job of finding that balance, and that’s what we’re striving for here, a healthy relationship with the restaurant, and our lives outside of the restaurant. With how this place has been set up from the get go, it’s only open four days a week. It’ll be a good test for ourselves to see how we can make it work, so I’m excited and optimistic.