Photos by David Uhrin
It wasn’t because he greeted me on a fall Sunday morning dressed in a “Lettuce Turnip the Beet” T-shirt that I felt so comfortable at the home of one of Coastal Virginia’s premier chefs. It wasn’t even because that home is in Alanton, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Virginia Beach. No, there are almost too many reasons to name, including that when I initially contacted Alvin Williams, chef-owner of Cobalt Grille since 2000—and very recently, Stoley’s, both in Virginia Beach—and told him that we would like to invite CoVa readers into his home kitchen, he could not have been more gracious.
Williams hails from England where he was classically trained in French technique, cooking for the likes of the Grosvenor House Hotel, the Savoy Group and the Mayflower Hotel after graduating from culinary school. But he’s not turning out Escargots de Bourgogne from his newly remodeled home kitchen. He’s more likely to cook casually on Sundays—or for Thanksgiving—when he puts on a pot of soup, stew or chili, or mans the grill for company.
Alvin Williams and his wife, Carrie, share a love for casual entertaining.
“When you cook at that level,” he reflects on his British chef days, “you get burned out; you don’t see the sun.” So he eventually quit and did some traveling, often visiting his sister who had moved to this area with her NAVY husband. “I loved Virginia Beach,” he expresses, “just the general pace of life.” After Virginia Beach won his heart, he won the green card lottery and secured a job at Le Chambord where he stayed for six or seven years before opening Cobalt.
He laughs with a bit of a headshake remembering how quickly he learned that this market didn’t want his “fancy French food,” and he adapted. Then, when the economy took a blow in 2007–2008, he realized the restaurant “just wasn’t going to make it” without lowering their price point. Enter the burger. He attributes his long-time success to staying ahead of trends and tuning in to both his guests and the economy, evolving his cuisine, priorities and interior design.
Meanwhile, back at the handsome mid-’80s ranch-style home that he and Carrie, his wife of four years, purchased in 2015, the couple has transformed the interior design of the “dark, ugly kitchen—just horrible.” Gone are the linoleum floor and the smelly, white shag rug in the adjacent sitting area. Gone too is the wall that separated them, making the brick fireplace—freshly painted in “Carrie’s Blue”—feel a part of the cooking space. Under the shag were pristine hardwood floors with a rich, dark finish. The couple decided to have hardwood floors laid in the kitchen stained to seamlessly match.
Like so many homeowners nowadays, Williams wanted an open kitchen anchored by a 9.5-foot island. “We’re not very formal at all,” he said of the couple’s love of casual entertaining where everyone gathers in the kitchen or near the outdoor grill. Even in his former “tiny” condo, friends would cluster on the stairs just to be close to the action. The overall look of the remodeled kitchen is that of an updated bistro: simple, clean, bright and highly functional. Williams will take credit for the functionality—he claims that the entire kitchen was built around his pot-filler, especially for stocks—but gives Carrie all of the props for décor.
The couple enjoys relaxing together on their screened-in porch.
Williams enjoy a glass of wine overlooking the outdoor raised garden, which he
keeps in good supply year-round.
Left: One of the chef's favorite details in his home kitchen is a set of antique, copper
pots; Right: Clear glass pendants with Edison bulbs illuminate the island.
Williams' favorite kitchen tools (besides wine openers) are tongs—a "bunch of them
—an extension of your arm," fish spatula for flipping and turning, and a flexi-spatula
with a serrated edge.
Left: Williams' collection of decanters; Right: Williams claims that the entire kitchen
was built around his pot-filler.
Always at the ready, Williams keeps a wine opener quite literally in every drawer.
There is much to love about this kitchen with its white subway tile, stainless steel gas appliances from GE’s Café Series, three ovens—including one convection—, “Fantasy Brown” granite countertops with a leather finish, open shelving, an apron sink with a vintage metal “daisy” chandelier above, an oil-finished bronze pull-down faucet, white Shaker-style cabinets with self-closing drawers, a combination of bin pulls and knobs, lots of can lights and three clear glass pendants with Edison bulbs over the island, and a built-in bar displaying Williams’ collection of decanters. Plus the kitchen provides easy access to his “farmette” of six large and lush raised beds where this chef-gardener grows vegetables and herbs for his restaurants, his own kitchen and his neighbors.
Williams has three favorite details, and they probably aren’t what you’d think: 1) a set of antique, copper pots that he and Carrie purchased on a flea market/antiquing binge in England; Carrie also works in the restaurant business and owns an Etsy shop called VB Vintage, so she is always on the hunt; 2) a wine opener quite literally in every drawer; Williams takes his wines—at home and in his restaurants—seriously; and 3) a set of silver wine glass charms bearing the names of all of the couple’s closest friends.
“For us,” Williams says, “it’s all about getting people together.”