Staff Profile: John Williams

“At the early age of eight, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.” John Williams says. “I was blessed.”

He recalls the moment he realized his love for cooking. “I remember being in the kitchen with my mom; I was probably tugging on her apron, and she told me to go read a book.”

He happened to grab a Good Housekeeping cookbook. After thumbing through the numerous recipes for chicken, John arrived at duck.

“At that point, the only thing I knew about duck was Donald Duck,” he recounts with a laugh.

He announced to his mother that he was going to make duck a l'orange for dinner. To his surprise, she replied, “I’m not buying you a duck, but let’s go to the store and I’ll buy you a chicken.” They got all the ingredients, and John cooked for his family that night.

Cooking for the family had an unexpected benefit for John. He realized, “If I cooked dinner, I didn’t have to do the dishes. I’m the oldest of five kids–so there were always a lot of dishes to be done!”

From then on, John was regularly cooking dinner for his family (and avoiding dish duty).

John began his formal culinary training in his hometown of Lansing, Michigan. He enrolled in a three-year program at a local community college before transferring to Michigan State University to complete his education.

“After graduation, I started to hone my craft and ended up working for a few large companies. I’ve opened over 40 restaurants across the United States, along with a couple resorts and hotels.”

John’s clean culinary style made him a great fit for the three years he spent as executive chef at Sundara Inn & Spa in Wisconsin Dells. He even wrote a cookbook while working for Sundara, but a life change made him rethink his employment.

“When my wife got pregnant, I decided I needed to step away from the restaurant business and get into something that was going to be more conducive to family life, so I went into healthcare.”

That’s when UW Health came calling and offered him a position as the Executive Chef at the University of Wisconsin Hospital, marking his first foray into the field. After a few years, he decided he wanted to move out of the kitchen and into a director role, so he pursued a director’s position in Oconomowoc for Rogers Behavioral Health.

“My culinary style is very clean. I cook within the seasons, so I use whatever is fresh and bountiful.”

John spent six great years there and ultimately thought that would be where he’d retire, but organizational changes altered John’s path, and he left Rogers in January of 2021.

Considering offers throughout the country, John and his wife ultimately left the decision in the hands of their teenage daughter. “She started high school this fall and she said, ‘Dad I really want to finish high school here in Wisconsin.’”

With that, John started looking in the state for what he would consider his “next challenge.” He explored opening his own restaurant (twice) but his wife talked him out of that.

After learning about the position with Oakwood that he now holds, “I felt like I needed to be here.”

As Senior Director of Culinary Services at Oakwood, John brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, along with his lifelong passion for food.

John has been regularly meeting with the Dining Committee on each campus to hear their thoughts, which has helped to frame his vision for the future of Culinary Services at Oakwood.

“The biggest thing is consistency, but you can’t have consistency without processes.” Establishing and implementing these processes has been his top priority since arriving at Oakwood.

When asked what his personal culinary style is, John describes it as “very clean. Not a lot of butter, not a lot of fat, more oil-based. I cook within the seasons, so I use whatever’s fresh and bountiful.”

He looks forward to bringing that philosophy to Oakwood’s dining venues.

John has been warmly greeted on the Oakwood campuses, and is excited to share his passion for not just the flavors of food, but the power of food throughout Oakwood.

Senior Director of Culinary Services, John Williams, has earned the following credentials: CEC, CFBE, FMP, MWMSC

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