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Area Sous-Chefs Prove Their Talent

December 6, 2011 – PNJ.com
Written by Rebecca Ross

H20 RestaurantWilliam Cunningham, 27, the executive sous-chef at H2O Gulf Front Grill in the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front hotel, holds a customer favorite, blackened shrimp and scallops. Behind every good executive chef, there’s a sous, or two.

You can find them in most professional kitchens, hard at work. Amidst the sizzling pans and flashing knives, the barked orders and choreographed mayhem, are the sous-chefs.  Second-in-command, these skilled right hands do just about everything, from ordering staples to supervising staff. They have the guts — and the ability to whip them into delicious dishes — but rarely the glory.

As deserving as head honchos are of their culinary accolades, it’s time to shine a light on some of the area’s favorite sous-chefs. Nominated by loyal customers and proud bosses, these five professionals represent a wealth of behind-the-scenes talent. It takes a small army to run a kitchen, so here’s a salute to a few of the sous.

William Cunningham, H2O, Pensacola Beach

William “Billy” Cunningham has been a sous-chef at H2O for nearly two years. Tourists and locals flock to the restaurant inside the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front Hotel for its Cajun/Asian menu and beach-y ambience. Cunningham loves nothing more than the bustle of a busy night, and a long line of order tickets. But the Gulf Breeze resident’s start in the restaurant business was far from the position of authority he holds today.

“I actually started out washing dishes at Boy on a Dolphin,” Cunningham, 27, said of the now closed Pensacola Beach restaurant. “Then I started bussing tables and saw all of the commotion going on in the kitchen. I wanted to be a part of it.”

His first cooking job at age 17 was at Jubilee, another former Pensacola Beach favorite, as a line cook. Oddly enough, he worked for the man, Dan Dunn, who is H2O’s executive chef.

“Instead of culinary school, I went to the school of hard knocks,” Cunningham joked. “I’ve learned a lot from Dan and from Mike Cosse, our food and beverage director. They’re like mentors to me.”

As sous-chef, he does “a little bit of everything.”

“As second-in-command, I make sure the kitchen runs properly,” Cunningham said. “Sous-chefs try to take a lot of the stress from the head chef, so I make sure the food quality is up to par and that it goes out in a timely manner.”