6 Questions with Top Chef Winner Brooke Williamson
Brooke Williamson is the co-chef and co-owner—with husband and business partner Nick Roberts—of the Southern California restaurant group Company For Dinner which includes elevated gastropub Hudson House in Redondo Beach, The Tripel in Playa del Rey serving modern American food and craft beer, and Hawaiian fast casual concept Da Kikokiko in Playa Vista, among others. She won Bravo’s “Top Chef” Season 14 in Charleston, and is known for her California-inspired cuisine infusing local ingredients with global flavors. FSR spoke to Williamson about her career, her food, and her current role as a mentor and boss.
Where did you start in the restaurant business?
As a pastry assistant at Fenix in the Argyle Hotel (Los Angeles).
What’s a dish you’re loving right now at one of your restaurants?
Spicy Yellowfin Tuna Poke Bowl at Da Kikokiko. Made with yellowfin tuna, spicy mayo, scallion, shaved serrano, smelt egg, furikake, and tempura crumb.
What’s the most interesting thing about this dish?
Not only is the bowl super customizable, but what I find most interesting is more so the combinations of textures and temperatures—the cold rice mixed with warm toppings, the sweet with the salty, the crunchy with the soft. I’m a stickler for a really well-balanced dish, and this bowl really accomplishes that. Balance is really what keeps your palate entertained and makes you want to dive into something you don’t want to stop eating. That’s what we really try to accomplish with our Hawaiian-style menu at Da Kikokiko.
Why is this dish meaningful to you?
I probably eat this bowl once a week. I purposefully show up early to the restaurant so I can walk in, know the kitchen will be set up, make my own bowl, and customize it to how I’m feeling. I like to make it with the grain blend and add pickled shiitake mushrooms, avocado, cilantro, and extra smelt eggs. This bowl and Da Kikokiko are both really representative of who I am, not because of the type of the cuisine, but because of the organized messiness that comes across. I feel that Da Kikokiko is not only representative of [my husband and I] as people, but also the type of food we like to eat all the time.
What’s your best piece of advice for young chefs entering the industry?
Embrace the imperfections of who you are and what you do, as it’s those imperfections that make you special. Remember that it’s not going to be perfect every time, and that the practice-makes-perfect mentality will take you far. There’s no one aspect of the restaurant business that is the most important. In fact, it’s the balance of it all that is most important—balance of life, balance of work ethic, and balance of pride.
What is your No. 1 rule for kitchen/restaurant etiquette that you try to instill in your staff?
I want to see that my staff is taking pride in what they’re doing and what they’re serving. The staff acts as an important part of our restaurant, and it’s important that they have a desire to understand not only how they’re doing, but most of all, how it affects our guests. Taking pride, regardless of what they want to be doing 10 years down the road, is key for us. We encourage our staff members to be in the moment and appreciate what they’re doing now, as customers are able to see right through that.