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William "Billy" Barlow

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FINALIST PROFILE

WILLIAM "BILLY" BARLOW

Age: 25

Occupation: Cook/butcher

Birthplace: Ocean Springs, Miss.

Hometown: New Orleans, La.

I guess I should start at the beginning. I was born the son of two school teachers in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, in 1980. I am the youngest of three older brothers and an older sister. I grew up next to my grandparents where my grandfather grew all of his own vegetables, pretty much anything you could imagine. The evening revolved around the family meal when I was younger, so it played a large social aspect for us. My best memories are going shrimping with my dad in the early summer and then having a big shrimp boil on Father's Day weekend.

How does this all relate to my cooking career, you may ask? Basically, it gave me respect for my raw ingredients, the vegetables grown on the land and hand-picked, the fresh-caught gulf shrimp that I put in my own sweat to catch. This business is partially about respect for your ingredients. When you grow up in a situation like mine, you live with that respect.

My parents didn't always like it that I cooked, however. I always helped out in the kitchen as a kid, but my revelation came in March of 2001 while I was on spring break in Boston. I had the cassoulet at Les Zygomates. I had never had anything like it before. I knew how to cook, but nothing like this! I quit my job working for a dot-com and became a cook at the Oxford-University Club in Oxford, Mississippi. My parents hated this. The chef at the time, Gene Bjorklund, saw my talent and told me to "get the hell out of Mississippi," so I moved to Boston with a suitcase, a box, and $50 in my pocket. I got a job pretty quickly at L'Espalier. I had no clue that it is one of the most respected restaurants in the country! While he was hardly nice to me, Frank McClelland taught me more than anyone has, about style and flavor profiles and ethnicities and more things than I can even list.

After L'Espalier I took a job working for Andy Husbands at his new restaurant, Rouge. It was supposed to have a Southern slant, so I figured I could do that better than anyone in Boston for sure. Rouge was the first place I really put my heart and soul into. I learned a lot from Andy and then chef Sal Fristensky. I kept my head down and was incredibly aggressive. Eventually, Sal felt the need to move on, and Andy took over the reigns. I had proven myself to everyone else, but not yet to Andy. Frank McClelland mentored me with food, but my business sense is 100% Andy Husbands' — ruthless. Ruthless not in a bad way, he taught me how to look at things from an owner's eyes.

I was closing in on two years at Rouge when there were some family illnesses that troubled me. I felt the call home to be nearby in case of tragedy. My parents had become very supportive of my career; it was my turn to return the favor. Thank goodness the illnesses passed. As it stands I am the lead cook and butcher at Delmonico, but I still find time to cook for my parents when I have days off.