Chef William Turner’s mother would tell you he has been hanging around kitchens since he could crawl.
“Of course, she would say it would be to eat anything and everything in sight,” says Turner.
Born and raised in a small town in South Carolina’s Lowcountry near Charleston, Turner delighted in shrimp and grits, gumbo, seafood boils, and Southern fried everything as a child, especially when he was able to doctor it up a bit.
“I remember being just 10 years old and whipping together mayonnaise and hot sauces to add a little extra zest to my grilled cheese or chopping up anything I could find in the fridge to add to the top of a standard cheese pizza,” he says. “But my passion for really cooking started in Ms. Bower’s home economics class in eighth grade.”
In his district, kids took home economics beginning in fifth grade for several years, so once an elder statesman of the class, Turner was allowed to bring in ingredients and cook in the classroom’s demo kitchen on Fridays with friends.
“That lit the flame for me, but what really ignited my passion for cooking into a wildfire was my afterschool job at 14 in this small seafood restaurant. While I just peeled shrimp and washed dishes, when they lost some of their staff, I got the chance to work on the real line in the kitchen, and I fell in love with the creative chaos,” says Turner, who by 15 was running the kitchen.
At 16, Turner’s grandmother in North Carolina fell ill, so he went to stay with her, getting a job at a busy McDonald’s there for extra money.
“I could downplay McDonald’s, but you do not know busy or customer service until you work the drive-thru line during dinner,” says Turner, who excelled in the position and was entered into McDonald’s management program, where he learned about the business of cooking and creating a more organized chaos in the kitchen.
After graduating high school in 1997 and working a few other corporate cooking jobs, Turner earned an apprenticeship at one of the premier restaurants in South Carolina in its day and found a mentor in award-winning chef Ernest Bledsoe, who taught him about the art and science of fine dining. For the next 20 years, Turner honed his craft at high-end eateries and country clubs across the nation, at one point working as a seasonal fine-dining chef with the National Parks, an opportunity that afforded him positions working in Yellowstone National Park and in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
“Arizona was sort of an accident, but a happy one,” says Turner, who planned a quick vacation to Scottsdale in 2017 and ended up making it his new home, seeing opportunity for a new business in the Sonoran Desert.
By January 2018, he was ready for his biggest move yet. He launched Private Chef William Turner, a full-service catering, high-end private dinner, themed dinner, and event planning service focused on groups of 10 to 200, including weddings and corporate events, but also the rapidly rising bachelorette party private dinner market.
“It is the culmination of everything I’ve learned since I was sneaking treats in my mom’s kitchen,” he says. “I want to make my guests’ every culinary dream come true, no matter how grand the vision or large the scale.”
Turner’s Holiday Cooking Tips
A few tips for those in charge of the holiday culinary experience.
1. Plan ahead—get your menu, ingredients, and serving pieces together, and don't wait until the last minute.
2. Delegate, if possible. Many hands make light work.
3. If you are making a new dish, test it first. Recipes aren't an exact science.
4. Prep as much as you can ahead of time. Many dishes can be made the day before.
5. My last bit of advice is if you plan to cook a turkey, get your turkey early and defrost it correctly—in the fridge for 3-4 days depending on size.
A Holiday Recipe From Chef Turner
The South Carolina native shares a Carolina classic dish.
Carolina Oyster Dressing
Yield: 10-12 servings | Prep time: 15 min. | Cook time: 45 min.
1 pound loaf stale French bread, sliced and then torn for about 16 cups
2 pints fresh, raw Gulf oysters, strained but reserve liquid
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped sweet bell peppers
2 green onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon rubbed sage, or to taste, optional
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon each freshly cracked black pepper and cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 large eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch-by-13 inch casserole dish; set aside. Add torn French bread to large bowl and pour strained oyster liquid over; toss with fork. Add chicken broth, mix, and set aside to allow liquid to be soaked in. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet and saute veggies over medium-high heat until tender but not browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add seasonings and toss. Add soaked French bread and toss to warm through. Remove from heat. Chop larger oysters into bite-sized pieces and add to dressing. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add egg, mix, and transfer to prepared dish. Gently spread out but do not pack. Bake, uncovered, until bubbly and browned on top, about 40 to 45 minutes.