A plate of their own
New Saranac Lake restaurant to serve food from chef’s table
SARANAC LAKE — Charles Williams has been cooking up meals in local kitchens since he got his first summer job here in 1993, and now he has a restaurant of his own in downtown Saranac Lake with his wife Rikelmy, where they plan to serve up staples from their own home table.
“It’s what me and my wife have fed our children,” Charles said of their soul and Caribbean food menu. “There is literally nothing that hasn’t been on my dining room table or our holiday favorites.”
Charles said they’ll throw a burger on the grill at home like everyone does, but they also have a lot of dishes from their backgrounds, combining their Cape Verdean-American and Caribbean cultures’ culinary traditions.
They plan to open before the end of the month and Charles said he is feeling “a great nervousness.” He has always worked for someone else’s kitchen, but has always dreamed of having their own place with more creative control.
“What chef doesn’t?” he asked.
Charles has ran kitchens at several restaurants around here — including Tail O’ the Pup, Blue Line Brewery, Howard Johnson’s and Lisa G’s — and he’s been cooking since his high school days.
What got him into it?
“My mother,” he said with a giant smile.
His mother came from North Carolina and raised six children in Providence, Rhode Island. She made some “out of this world” soul food, he said.
“I’m the youngest out of five boys. I was always on her hip,” Charles said. “My mom is, to this day, an incredible cook.”
It started with her asking him to mix cake batter and him getting to lick the bowl, and he took to it fast.
His father’s side of the family is from Cape Verde, a cluster of islands off the northwest coast of Africa with Black Portuguese roots.
Rikelmy was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in New York City. Her parents owned a restaurant and Charles said he’s learned recipes from her mom. He said though their families come from countries 3,000 miles apart, their foods are very similar.
“They are both island cultures, just from different waters,” Charles said.
There are lots of rice-based dishes — some sharing the same ingredients with different names — and what Charles calls “peasant cooking” that people “flair up” over the years.
Rikelmy said there are many great places owned by great people with great food around here, places they’ve eaten at for 30 years, but there’s not a lot of food variety and “sometimes you want something different.”
She has never had that desire fulfilled, but she said they know the community here is open-minded and has an adventurous palate.
Charles also plans to serve Korean and Honduran dishes.
He said he’s had the pleasure of living in these countries during his stint in the Army and took advantage of that time to study the food in the country he was stationed at.
“If I’m going to live in this country for 18 months, I’m going to get comfortable with one of the restaurants,” Charles said.
He’d work at a local restaurant for a few hours on his days off, and picked the owner’s brain on her meals.
“‘How’d you make those ramen noodles?'” he said he asked her. “‘Because it ain’t what I had in my dorm room.'”
The couple both graduated from Paul Smith’s College in 1995 — Charles with a culinary degree and Rikelmy with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. Shortly after, they eloped and got married at the Harrietstown Town Hall.
Charles said Rikelmy is a true life partner. They’ve been together since they were 19, going on 31 years now.
“She’s the brains, I’m the spatula,” Charles said.
Their children — 19, 25 and 27 — are grown up. They’re moving away, going to college, getting married and starting careers. The Williams are proud of them all and they said their kids are excited for them, too. Rikelmy said she couldn’t work in the restaurant industry with children. It is too demanding. Now that they are feeling a bit of an empty nest, they have time to turn to this new venture.
When they heard Borracho Taco was closing, they jumped on the space. They said it is a good small space to start a restaurant and they were ready. Well, Rikelmy’s been ready for a while.
“It’s been years of me trying to talk him into opening our own place,” Rikelmy said with a laugh. “If it was up to me this would have happened a long time ago.”
“I wouldn’t have done this without her saying it’s time,” Charles said. “This time she demanded.”
And he couldn’t say no. He said he is “scared s***less” but “happy to be doing it.”
Charles has been doing a lot of the renovating himself. He said he’s been learning from friends. Rikelmy has been decorating. She said the bright colors, flowers and art in the space are inspired by restaurants they’ve visited in cities around the world. They’ll also be playing the music they play at home — Latin, R&B and ’90s hits.
She didn’t go with the traditional Adirondack rustic look. She went with something different, since their cuisine is different.
Late nights and passion
Charles and Rikelmy plan to be open for late nights in the summer with a smaller, “grab-and-go” menu after dark.
“You know, somebody’s got to eat at 1:30 (a.m.),” Charles said, adding that he’s been there himself. “We weren’t always 50.”
“You get out of the bar and you’re hungry!” Rikelmy said.
Right now they’re planning later hours on Friday and Saturday, with the potential to add Thursday.
Charles is used to late nights. For years, Rikelmy has told him he’s the boss in the kitchen and he doesn’t have to be there all the time, but he still puts in 90 hours on some weeks.
He loves the kitchen.
“It’s rough on the body. It’s rough on the soul. It’s rough on the family,” Charles said. “But I just love this s***.”
Our Plates will tentatively open on May 22, Rikelmy said.