"I had no idea how to cook Italian food but I told 'em, 'I'm the best Italian cook in the world!'" he said. "After three weeks of reading cookbooks and practicing everything, I learned how to cook Italian. I turned out lasagna, man. It may have been a bit Louisiana but it was good."
While Castelle had an enormous influence on his career choice, Chandler said it was his father who instilled the work ethic required to make Henry's Louisiana Grill a financial success.
"He didn't really fancy the cooking -- he didn't think that would be a good career for me because to him that wasn't a manly thing," he said. Chandler invites the help of his own son Liam (a nickname for William Chandler IV) and daughter Danielle Grace, both teenagers, in the restaurant he runs with his wife Claudia.
Chandler's friendly nature -- he is known to visit every table in the restaurant to be sure all diners are more than satisfied -- was nearly his downfall earlier in life. He was a far bigger partier than a student in college, flunking out repeatedly and racking up about $6,000 of fun on his mother's credit card. His father decided to straighten him out, a hard lesson that Chandler said was invaluable.
"My father sent me offshore to a pin drilling company to work," said Chandler. "I went from the easy life to (an oil rig) 125 miles offshore. The first day I was out there I was hanging 300 feet off the ocean pounding in giant spikes. That's the day I was praying for a 2.0. Let me tell you, it is a life change! Big time."
Chandler's father also took his earnings to erase the credit card debt, something the son only realized when he visited his foreman, expecting a raise.
"'You so stupid. Your Daddy's been garnishin' your check'," Chandler recalled the foreman telling him. The life lesson is what gave Chandler the confidence to pursue his dreams years later and open his own restaurant.
"He instilled that in me: Hard work is going to pay off. So we made the plunge. We decided to risk everything on that small venture. That's how America is built," Chandler said.
Success hasn't made it any easier, he said. "You sacrifice your family time, your time with your spouse, your health… You do about 110 hours a week if you're a good chef. There's no way around it. You leave at 3 in the morning, you're back at 6:30 to check the vegetables in. If you're not dedicated, never get in the business."
Hard work was blamed for his exhaustion two years ago. He told his doctor about it during a routine physical, and the diagnosis he got back shocked him.
"Primary liver cancer. The doctor basically said you may last six months, you may last a year," Chandler recalled. He and Claudia decided to keep it a secret and try experimental treatment but when his skin turned "highlighter yellow," he had to tell his children.
"We spun it: Daddy's going to live. We just don't know how yet," said Chandler.
He found another doctor, who tried a chemotherapy treatment that put him in a coma for several days. His family and medical team launched a search for a donor liver but his chances seemed slim.
"We had no chance for a liver. Basically, I had last rites on Sunday. Ten o'clock in the morning Monday, a liver came in and they transplanted me," said Chandler, wiping tears from his eyes. "Recovery was tough. God is good to me."