South Charlotte

After retirement, he's cooking up new career

Bill Bigham loves food.

He recalls his mother, Mary, cooked wholesome food for his family growing up in Michigan. He recalls sitting around the table every day with his family to eat and share events.

His culinary appetite was inspired by his mom's love for food. Bigham learned the importance of cooking for your family and then eating together. Eating baked chicken and apple pie are memories that are still with him.

Bigham now has the opportunity to help families share meals, either with his prepared food or food he teaches you to prepare.

Today, Bigham is known around Charlotte as "Chef Bill." Bigham, 63, lives in Piper Glen with his wife, Maureen, who supports his reign in the kitchen.

Bigham wasn't always a chef. He spent more than 30 years working in sales and management for Procter & Gamble.

In 2004, Bigham enrolled in the culinary arts program at Johnson & Wales University. He was inspired by a retirement package from Procter & Gamble to take retraining money and enroll in the program.

Bigham was the oldest student in the program; he was 56. Two years later he received an associate's degree and became known as the oldest graduating student with the highest GPA: 4.0.

Bigham is proud of his success and eager to talk about food. He is thrilled to have translated his passion for food into a new profession.

Art Gallagher, president of Johnson & Wales, said Bigham's energy and experience contributed greatly to his class.

"Bill Bigham's earlier life experiences brought a whole new level of intellectual curiosity to our culinary labs in our inaugural academic year," said Gallagher. "The 18- and 19-year-old Johnson & Wales students who worked side-by-side with Bill in that year learned a great deal more than just how to saute or how to prepare a proper roux.

"Bill's enthusiasm was contagious."

Bigham can be found at Lowe's Food at Promenade on Providence Road several times a month demonstrating cooking techniques and offering stories about his life and family - followed by offerings of hefty samples of food.

Brandon Dahm is a regular at the demonstrations. "He always has something new," said Dahm.

The classes are free, and the next session will be at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on June 22-23.

Bigham also teaches cooking classes at Le Cookery, a kitchen and tableware store in the Blakeney Shopping Center. The classes offer cooking techniques and food to eat after it is prepared. The next class starts June 13. Prices start at $65 for the demonstration and dinner.

"Chef Bill has been a great addition to our educational classes at Le Cookery. His simply elegant style of cooking combined with his culinary knowledge and charismatic personality make the classes both informative and enjoyable for our customers," said Clinton Greif, operations manager.

Bigham also works as a private chef who will come to your home, business or event to prepare meals and demonstrate techniques.