CHICAGO — He is an award-winning chef whose culinary skills, family recipes and historical research are just some of the ingredients in his Southern cuisine.
Erick Williams owns and is the executive chef at the restaurant Virtue in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
There, Williams is cooking up more than delicious Southern fare. He is also preserving a piece of Black history.
“It is Southern food inspired by the migration,” he said. “What we try to focus on now is really telling the story through food and providing a level of integrity as it relates to the food of my ancestry and our culture.”
Williams says understanding the stories and influence of the Great Migration is vital to the integrity of a dish.
In addition to research, Williams says it is family recipes and fond memories of cooking alongside his grandmother that have influences his dishes.
Williams, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side didn’t have traditional culinary training, when he took a job working under popular Chicago chef Michael Kornick at his now shuttered restaurant MK.
For nearly two decades Williams honed his craft at the restaurant and in 2018 he ventured out on his own opening Virtue.
Today he is an award winning chef who focuses on giving his employees the same training and opportunity he received.
“We spend more time trying to develop talent,” he said. “And that is the way that my growth process took place. “
And Williams also places a huge emphasis on hospitality extended to customers and staff alike.
“Everyone here has to greet each other,” he said.
Williams says patrons have a cultural experience at Virtue and his dedication to excellence is reflected in the name.
“Virtue encompasses my faith system and it encompasses my value system,” he said. “And it relates to extending hospitality to people.”
Williams also owns three additional restaurants in Chicago; Mustard Seed Kitchen, Daisey’s Po-Boy and Tavern, and his latest Top This Mac and Cheese is currently a delivery only service.