After spending nearly two decades learning from some of the best chefs in the South, Bill Briand joined forces with Johnny Fisher to become the Executive Chef at Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina. And now, just a few years later, he’s earned his first James Beard nomination (for Best Chef: South). We sat down with him recently to discuss how he got to this point and why Alabama Gulf Seafood is the best on earth.
When did you decide you wanted to become a chef, and what is your culinary training background?
I’ve always had an interest in cooking. When I was a kid, I was in the kitchen with my mother cooking. I did not go to culinary school; I learned my trade working with Emeril Lagasse and Donald Link for about eight years each.
How did you become involved with Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina?
I met Johnny Fisher through mutual friends. So when he had the opportunity to open the restaurant, I moved to Orange Beach and we started building Fisher’s.
Has seafood (and Gulf seafood in particular) always been a focus of your culinary palette, or did you decide to emphasize Gulf seafood upon being named the executive chef at Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina?
I spent the last eight years butchering whole pigs and curing meat. So coming down to the Gulf Coast, I knew that seafood is a staple. I was amazed at how fresh the seafood was down here, so naturally our goal became showcasing all these wonderful flavors. We butcher all of our fish in house, and occasionally we still get to cut up whole pigs.
What was your reaction (and Johnny’s reaction) to the James Beard nomination, and what does that mean to you personally as well as the entire Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina team?
I was surprised, to be honest. I worked with Donald Link when he received his nominations and also won his awards, so it has been a goal of mine. It’s truly an honor to be mentioned alongside these very talented chefs. I am so proud of my team. Everybody on our team has helped us get to where we are today, and I’m grateful to all of them.
Does a JBF nomination change the Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina game plan moving forward?
It doesn’t change our game plan. Our goals are the same as they were before: giving our guests the best experience possible. And also providing Alabama Gulf Seafood to all of our guests.
The Southern Grace celebrity chef dinner series coming up at Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina. What’s it like getting to cook with friends from other restaurants in your kitchen?
Southern Grace dinners are the highlight of my year. Getting a chance to have all these talented chefs in my kitchen is great. My staff being able to work beside these chefs and learn, and see different styles of cooking. It is also fun to take the chefs out on a boat and let them enjoy what Orange Beach has to offer.
As a seafood restaurant, why is it important to use locally sourced Gulf seafood whenever possible?
It’s very important to use locally sourced seafood. We want to buy as much as we can so that the money we spend is going right back into our fishing community. Using local seafood no matter where you live is the best way to get the highest quality.
Have you seen more of a demand for locally sourced Gulf Seafood in Alabama and throughout the South?
Yes we have seen more demand for Gulf seafood. Alabama farm-raised oysters are in high demand as well as Bayou La Batre crabmeat. I feel like Gulf seafood is hands down the highest quality around.
When you’re cooking for yourself, what are your preferred Alabama Gulf Seafood dishes?
When I cook for myself, I cook a lot of shrimp. I love BBQ shrimp and shrimp & grits. I also love crab claws, but I usually eat them all before I get home from the seafood shop.