J.P. Knaggs, owner of the award-winning Bijou Café in Sarasota, recently appointed Ryan Williams as the restaurant’s new executive chef. Williams brings a wealth of restaurant experience to the position.
How did Williams, 34, discover his passion for the culinary arts?
“Believe it or not, as a dishwasher,” he laughs. “I was 14 years old and got a job washing dishes at a neighborhood restaurant. I was fascinated with everything that went on behind the scenes and never looked back.”
Williams followed his passion by completing a culinary degree from Florida Culinary, now known as Lincoln Culinary Institute. He started cooking professionally at the age of 20 as the sous chef at Tommy Bahamas in West Palm Beach. He further honed his craft at Cafe Chardonnay and Vic and Angelos, both in Palm Beach Gardens and at The Breakers, the celebrated Palm Beach resort. During this time, he developed his flair for multicultural cuisine and for combining ingredients to create fresh, bold flavors. “Innovation keeps life interesting, both on and off the table,” he says. “But I still believe in old school techniques.” William’s most recent position was executive chef of Pietros on the Ocean in Jensen Beach. He moved to Sarasota with his wife, Tanya, and their son Kai.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of the Bijou team,” says Williams. “I look forward to working with J.P. and Shay creating some new menu items. It’s going to be an exciting journey!”
Knaggs says he met Williams when he and his wife were visiting Sarasota a year ago. “We met by sheer coincidence when they were strolling in downtown Sarasota,” he says. “I noticed his wife’s South African accent and introduced myself—and we quickly started talking about food and fine dining. Ryan’s 100-watt enthusiasm for the possibilities of exceptional cuisine was obvious.” Knaggs adds that he and his wife, Shay, eventually traveled to Jenson Beach to try William’s food at Pietros on the Ocean. “Ryan cooked a seven-course tasting menu for us—and he knocked our socks off! We knew right then that our guests would love him.”
Williams’ culinary talents impressed Knaggs. His business talents did, too. “Today’s restaurant industry is highly competitive,” says Knaggs. “Skilled management is imperative on every level. Ryan’s management skills are second to none. He kept costs low and quality high in a busy 300-seat restaurant with multiple menus and venues. His rare combination of creativity and practicality make him the perfect fit for our team.”
According to Knaggs, Williams will continue to evolve The Bijou’s menu through the fall and winter seasons. “Our new selections will reflect Ryan’s artistry and background cooking at four-star restaurants,” he says. “I can’t wait to give our guests a taste of his creativity.”
The Bijou Café is located at 1287 First Street in Sarasota. For more information or reservations, call 941-366-8111 or visit http://www.bijoucafe.net.
About The Bijou Café
Since 1986, Chef Jean-Pierre Knaggs and his wife Shay have owned and operated The Bijou Café, which has grown from a small, 50-seat restaurant to a seating capacity of 140 people in three intimate and charmingly appointed dining rooms. Over the years, its cuisine, award-winning wine list and exemplary service have established it as one of Sarasota’s most sought-after fine dining destinations. The Bijou’s cuisine reflects Jean-Pierre’s South African and French heritage, with many of his famous recipes developed and refined as he traveled the world as chef aboard a private yacht. His style and interpretations have won the notice and acclaim of Town & Country Magazine, Bon Appetit and Gourmet. In 2004, the Zagat Survey named The Bijou Café Sarasota’s highest-rated restaurant and one of the top three restaurants on Florida’s west coast. Sarasota Herald Tribune readers consistently include it in the paper’s Reader’s Choice Awards; Florida Trend lists it as one of the top 200 restaurants in Florida and Sarasota Magazine simply calls The Bijou Café, “Best of the Best.” Since 1990, The Bijou Café has annually garnered the prestigious Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its outstanding wine selections from around the United States and the world, including one of the most extensive selections of South African wine available in Florida.