In the culinary world, it is sometimes rare to find a chef that cares about more than just the quality of food and the bottom line of their restaurant. Chef Stephen Williams of Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar in Covington is one of that rare breed.

As the owner of Bouquet, he naturally cares about the quality of food he serves and the bottom line of his restaurant. As he told me recently, “you’re lucky in the restaurant business to be around a year, and we are about to celebrate our seventh.” They indeed celebrated their seventh anniversary on Saturday, November 1.

Bouquet's Chef Stephen Williams (photo: Adam Henry/alias imaging)

Bouquet’s Chef Stephen Williams (photo: Adam Henry/alias imaging)

But Chef Williams cares about far more than that. He cares about the health of his customers, providing them a unique experience each time they come to the restaurant, and giving back to his community.

Chef Williams – while having a love of food and eating instilled in him at a young age from both of his grandmothers – didn’t start out aspiring to be a chef. He graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BFA in Fine Art Photography. But after finding himself in a Catholic church in the middle of a sweltering day in June with no air conditioning, attempting to photograph a wedding, he realized that a career in photography wasn’t in the cards.

Fortunately for all of us, his true career wasn’t far away. He was working at Otto’s, helping out a friend in order to help support himself between photography gigs. Or, as he puts it, “I just looked at the restaurant work as something to pay the bills.” But helping at Otto’s sparked that love of food that his grandmothers had inspired in him long ago. And soon he decided that food would be his career.

He enrolled in the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State in 2005 and was fortunate enough to be hired simultaneously at Pho Paris in Oakley – the French/Vietnamese restaurant owned by the much acclaimed Jean Robert de Cavel. Two years later, he opened Bouquet and in 2010 his wife Jessica (they were married this past summer) joined as general manager.

It was during Bouquet’s journey that his caring side began to truly emerge. Chef Williams originally opened Bouquet as a wine and tapas bar. But as he went searching out quality ingredients, he began to make relationships with the fine people at Findlay Market – along with the farmers and purveyors of the products. He saw how they looked at what they do as an art. He formed true friendships that went beyond business.

That caring for his new friends and relationships led him to organically change the model to what Bouquet is today: a farm-to-table experience that offers some of the freshest quality ingredients from over 30 farmers, local purveyors and farmers markets. That farm-to-table experience is something he’s very proud of. It is that quality of product and the people he works with that makes him the happiest.

The menu is orchestrated around what the farmers and purveyors present. Bouquet overhauls their menu four times per year and tweaks it every week. Chef Williams isn’t out to create exotic dishes that no one has ever heard of, but rather to keep an experimental, fun environment in the kitchen that leads to interesting combinations and – more importantly – provides a new experience for his customers every time they come in.

The wine list is another example of Chef Williams’ unique caring. Bouquet, until recently, had close to 200 different varieties of wine from all over the world. But they have culled it down to around 80 now. The reason for this was because Chef Williams was hearing from his customers that they just had too many selections. The wine list was close to 10 pages long, and customers seemed to be intimidated by the number of choices. So Chef Williams made the decision to trim it down. At the time, one might think that limiting selection might not be the wisest business decision. But that wasn’t why he did it. Listening to his customers and caring about their opinion has worked out better than even he thought.

“Our wine sales have increased 15-20% since we lowered the amount of selections,” he says.

If the food looks this good, imagine how it tastes! (photo: Adam Henry/alias imaging)

If the food at Bouquet looks this good, imagine how good it tastes! (photo: Adam Henry/alias imaging)

Another recent change for Bouquet – the Williams have added an upstairs addition. It’s currently being used to host private parties and gatherings, but they plan to eventually have a small plate menu and live music. It’s al part of Chef Williams continuing to care about his patrons and trying to improve their experience every way he can.

But the biggest sign of Chef Williams’ caring is how, even on a demanding schedule, he always finds time to use his energy and talent to give back. He recently participated in Jean Robert’s SIDS Brunch, helping to raise funds for Jean Robert’s SIDS foundation. He provided dishes to help showcase our fair city to some great people in New York City, as part of the “Cincy in NYC” event orchestrated by Mayor Cranley and his administration. And he provided his time to create a winery dinner as part of the Cincinnati International Wine Festival, which helps donate funds to dozens of local charities.

And he does all this as he and his wife are about to become parents for the first time. Now that’s a true gentleman.

Through our articles, Profile has preached many times that, if you put great karma into this universe, you can expect to get it back. And that is certainly no different for Chef Williams and Bouquet. In addition to having survived the cutthroat world of the restaurant business for seven years (how many restaurants have you seen come-and-go in that time, huh?), Bouquet has been named one of this region’s top ten restaurants by Cincinnati Magazine for three years running.

If you haven’t gotten over to Bouquet recently (or ever – shame on you!), I highly suggest you do so soon and often.

You can check out their current menu on their website: http://www.bouquetrestaurant.com/

And if you have the opportunity and true pleasure to meet Chef Stephen Williams, as I did, consider yourself lucky. He is truly one-of-a-kind in an industry where giving back doesn’t happen all that often.

Until next time, gentlemen…