Chef Adam Williams, the recently appointed executive chef at Baltimore’s Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards, boasts plenty of seasoning for a culinary artist still entering his prime years in the industry.
His roots are firmly planted in his native state of South Carolina, where he also earned his Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts (’04) and Bachelor’s degree in Food Service Management (’06) at Charleston’s esteemed culinary institute of Johnson and Wales University. But since that early experience, Williams has honed his craft at four- and five-star properties ranging from the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C., and the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, to his recent work at Maui’s The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
And this range of experience has helped up his game to deal with the elevated expectations of today’s attendees—and planners.
“From the planner’s perspective, they want to be wowed, from the tastings pre-event to the actual event,” Williams says, adding that everyone is a foodie these days.
But that’s not a bad thing, says the affable chef.
“Everyone is more involved in the food scene, and everyone sees the cooking shows,” he explains. “But it lets you be more creative.”
And with Williams’ view of today’s biggest challenge—higher expectations often tied to lower budgets—he says creativity in how the food is presented is huge these days.
“It’s all about presentation,” he says. “You can have lower-cost items and present them in a memorable way.”
Some examples of that approach include individual small plates, a wave that seems to be sweeping the culinary world. Among some of Williams’ recent creations here are butternut squash shooters with apple bits, and brioche bread presented in modern and unique ways.
“You can also do food-truck-themed [buffet] stations, with truck cut-outs or station decor around that theme,” he adds, on ways to creatively impress attendees. “Think of things like Korean BBQ, lobster rolls, fish tacos, et cetera.”
Other trends he’s seen include groups wanting wholesome options at breakfasts, and unique break stations, with items that let attendees indulge here and there but also stick to their core routine of eating healthy.
For an insurance group with allergy concerns, Williams recently created a distinctive break station that had treats that bring back childhood memories, including Fruity Pebbles cereal, pretzel sticks and chocolate-covered raisins. An infused-water station offered a healthy alternative, and showcased refreshing blends such as blackberry-sage and strawberry-lime.
While Williams has worked with a number of different chefs and cultures, his focus has returned to French cuisine, where his skills were bolstered during his time at Ritz-Carlton and where much of his teaching and foundation as a chef were built. He particularly loves braising ingredients like short ribs and rabbit, a technique that he says takes some time but adds layers of flavor and always comes out great.
“I believe you eat with your heart,” Williams says. “And cook with passion.”