Most chefs’ first love is food. For Scottsdale personal chef William Turner, it’s people.
“Food is how I express that love to people,” he says.
Originally from South Carolina, Turner was introduced to the culinary industry when he was 14.
“It’s a hot bed for good food and hospitality,” he says of his southern roots. “I was peeling shrimp and cutting fish and that was my first introduction into the actual restaurant business.”
From there, he worked in fast food, a job that where he says he honed the social skills that play a big part in what he does now. That’s where he learned how to talk to clients because “in drive-throughs, you have no choice but to talk to people.”
He went on to work in fine dining restaurants, but soon got burnt out. He decided to pursue another one of his passions: traveling. He traded his life in corporate culinary institutions for a seasonal job at Yellowstone National Park and traveled around for five years.
“I went to Red Lodge, Montana, did a year and a half in New Orleans as an executive banquet chef, I went back out to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a place in Utah, just any national park type place that I thought would be a cool place to live and work for four to six months,” he says.
Life on the road was eventually getting old, though, and he wanted to settle down. It was during this time that he found himself in Scottsdale. It was exactly what he was looking for – “all the qualities of a big city with a small-town vibe.”
“I was like, ‘This is where I want to be,’” he recalls. “I fell in love with the people, I fell in love with the state and I haven’t left. There’s something magical about it.”
Turner became a personal chef specializing in bachelorette parties and other big events. Business was booming. Then, the pandemic hit. In March, he had 50 parties cancel within a week.
“In March and April, I thought the world was coming to an end,” he says candidly. “But once we opened back up, I rebounded.”
Now, he’s busier than ever – cooking for micro weddings and COVID-cautious families.
“A lot of people scared of COVID would rather have me come into their house and cook because they can watch me, they know it’s safe,” he explains. “It’s limited on how many people they’re exposed to. It makes sense for a lot of people, especially people who have preexisting conditions.”
Persevering through the pandemic has taught him a lot, he says.
“There are a lot of lessons,” he muses. “Some are more important than others.”
One of the most important, he says, is to go with his gut and stay on a steady path.
“When the pandemic hit, everybody tried to change. I didn’t do that,” he explains. “I stayed with what I do. I didn’t lose my identity or my brand.”
He utilized the downtime to revamp his website, do PR pushes and boost his social media presence. Then, he bounced back – offering new packages and implementing strict safety protocols. Instead of marketing himself as “Scottsdale’s No. 1 bachelorette chef,” his new tagline became “stay safe, stay home.”
His goal, and what sets him apart from the competition, is to cater to each client and give them the party they want.
“I don’t want to give you the event I want you to have,” he explains.
To plan a party, he starts with the client’s vision, which includes ambience, cuisine and service. From there, he says the planning process is pretty simple. He offers different packages for his bachelorette parties, where you might find him dancing while he cooks, than he does for a wedding anniversary, where he says he is more reserved.
“I want to make memories, help them make memories and enjoy themselves,” he says.
Turner is a guru when it comes to grilling, a skill that comes from his early days at steakhouses and seafood restaurants. He also loves to cook what he loves to eat – “good ol’ country food.” He specializes in collard greens, gumbo, jambalaya and shrimp etouffee. He also loves to challenge himself.
“I love to cook what I’ve never cooked before. I love exposing people to new stuff, as well,” he says. “I love knowledge, I love teaching people and exposing people to new foods.”