It's not every day a bearded ginger walks into a Honduran restaurant and rattles off his vegetarian lunch order in perfect Spanish, but that's what happened the first time I met Brian Williams. Over pupusas, baleadas and a plate of huevos rancheros, Williams shares a rich tale steeped in travel, hip-hop and multi-cultural experiences. His story is an unlikely journey to the table, where his interpretation of conscious cuisine is preparing to take the Queen City by storm. How fitting for a guy who rapped under the moniker Cataclysm for nearly a decade.
If you're into music, you may know Williams as a rapper and supporter of the hip-hop community, locally and beyond. His first exposure to the kind of food he creates today came from music.
"Early on, the first people that spoke to me about vegetarianism were people I met through hip-hop culture," Williams says, "as well as conscious MCs on records I was being exposed to from X Clan to Edan."
While attending Queens University to study Chinese and politics, Williams began performing at open mic nights in 2008, and by 2012 was on tour with Mr. Invisible and a legitimate contribution to the scene.
In 2015, Williams' priority is not music, but food, although he will hesitate to call himself chef.
"I didn't come up working on the line," he says. "My personal food history has come through language learning and cultural exchange." He speaks Chinese, Spanish and English, by the way.
Williams' love of food, music and culture have taken him all over the world, creating an amalgam of experiences that are uniquely his own, full of intensely interesting intersections that defy labels. From hosting global jams in Taiwan to exploring traditional foods and techniques on an extended trip to Mexico City. Williams lights up when he talks of his travels.
"In Mexico, I was exposed to things like huitlacoche, black Mexican Aztec corn and fermented beverages like pulque, crazy pre-Hispanic foods, ancient heirloom stuff," says Williams. "That stuff blows my mind."
His sensibilities were furthered when he plunged into an immersive culinary program out west last year under acclaimed raw foods chef Matthew Kenney. There, he absorbed the grand potential and possibilities of raw food fine dining. These experiences have shaped his own brand, Terra Flora, which is slowly leaking into Charlotte.
"My personal brand comes from traditional food, thousand-year-old food, grandma food from around the world," says Williams. "Global, grandma food."
Did we mention it's raw, vegan and modernist?
Recently, Williams concocted a seven-course meal for the Cheshire Dinner Society, a roving underground supper club, where he wowed carnivore, omnivore and herbivore alike.
"He's going to help bring food full circle," says Cheshire Dinner Society maven Courtney Lynch.
In the kitchen, Williams enjoys the interplay between traditional foods and techniques (think fermented foods and pickled items), and the beauty and challenge of plant-based creations. For him, this intersection predates trendy terms like "raw" and "vegan." Plus, Williams isn't into labels. Rather, he wishes for good food to stand on its own without belonging to anyone but the eater at hand. Labels, says Williams, come with pejorative connotations, and he wants everyone to have access to his table.
Indeed, he is positioning his brand to reach the masses. Williams specializes in nontraditional cheesemaking made of nuts and modern techniques and has a growing interest in kombucha and fermented beverages, both of which he hopes to transform into a retail brand. In addition, he is focused on producing conscious gatherings around the table where he can explore flavor and technique. Don't call it a pop-up. That kind of label wouldn't fit. Williams' teeming passion for food, connection and conscious community is bigger than that, a phenomenon of sorts, worthy of an eager audience.