Homemade: Get to know Virtue chef Erick Williams

Tanja Babich Image
Tuesday, February 13, 2024
Homemade: Get to know Virtue chef Erick Williams
Chef Williams grew up on Chicago's West Side in Lawndale, he said it was family and faith that guided his path.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- This week, Tanja sat down with South Side chef Erick Williams.

Williams has won nearly every accolade for the soul food he dishes up at Virtue. It's not only his cooking that feeds his soul.

"My cooking with my grandmother was part of my beginning," Williams said. "It was the balm for everything."

Williams grew up on Chicago's West Side in Lawndale.

"I came from a rough environment," he explained. "I mean, in terms of community."

It was family and faith that ultimately guided his path.

"I think I got a really warm balance of instruction, and love and challenge in my home," he said. "That helped me and equipped me to deal with greater challenges and deficits of love, identifying real love out in the real world and appreciating instruction."

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Williams received instruction in spades upon setting foot in MK, a storied River North restaurant where he stayed for nearly 20 years.

"I had an incredible group of people who trusted in me and worked to develop me," he said.

He was hired as a salad chef - but MK Owner Michael Korinek saw a leader. Williams stepped comfortably into that role, developing rising talent: people like Chef Damarr Brown who now helms the kitchen at William's acclaimed restaurant, Virtue.

"He came in, asked me what my name was," Brown said. "I told him my name. And he goes 'scrambled eggs. And they better not be overcooked.' Then I gave them to him. He didn't say anything. So I guess they were okay."

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Brown described his relationship with Williams as an evolution. Williams initially played the role of boss, then mentor and now friend.

When asked why developing somebody in your kitchen is important to Williams, he responded:

"It's like I'm paying back-taxes in my own life and I'm also paying it forward in somebody else's," he said.

When people he has invested in call him "larger than life" - they aren't referring only to his 6'2" stature.

"I think when they're saying 'larger than life,' they're really talking about impact," Williams said. "I feel fortunate that a lot of that impact was good."

Williams launched The Virtue Leadership Development program last fall, a nonprofit with the goal to teach "local young adults of color to lead, manage change, problem solve, identify opportunities, and execute strategically," the website said.

Chef said it's not enough to teach someone how to do a job - he wants to help young people learn how to think critically and perform under any circumstance in the workplace.

The learn more about the Virtue, click here.