His sister challenged him after making a lunch for her that came out awful. He accidentally spilled the wrong condiment in the cabbage he was preparing. Her laughing at him is what fueled Chef Wenford P. Simpson. Born in Jamaica with 2 other brothers, his mother had to work 2 jobs as a single parent. Simpson remembers moving often as his mom sought to find a place comfortable for his family. As he advanced in education, he was asked at Career Day what career he wanted to pursue. “Food and nutrition”, he replied. Square One restaurant took him in as an intern. “I felt like I was not learning enough,” he said. Tired of making the same pastries over and over again, he asked his teacher to find him another internship opportunity. He was accepted at Club Caribbean where he moved up from dishwasher to pastry chef and later line cook. Chef Simpson then applied to Sandals and became a full-time pastry chef.
Currently, he is the corporate chef at B. B. King Blues Club & Grill, Highline Ballroom (located in the heart of New York City) and the Howard Theatre in Washington, DC. He has cooked for many celebrities such as Snoop Dog, Cicely Tyson, Jamie Foxx, Phylicia Rashad, Angie Stone (he still has the pictures on his cell phone) and more. Industry Rules sat down with Chef Simpson to discuss the restaurant industry, his plans to open up his own culinary school in Jamaica as well a restaurant here in New York.
AR- Talk About the first time you were in the kitchen?
WPS – I was always in the kitchen trying to cook for my sister. I would make little mistakes. I was making cabbage and I accidentally spilled curry into the cabbage and turned it into curry cabbage. My sister laughed at me. From that time I said, I’m going to show you I can cook, I’m going to be a chef.
AR – What are the most challenging aspects of cooking?
WPS – I’m not even sure that I would say I find it challenging because of the fact that I’m so intrigued by it. My challenge comes from how to perfect a dish that I’m not familiar with. I want to execute it to the point where the client will enjoy it. I find myself doing it quite well. When I do an actual event, I’ll put a little twist to it. I’ll put a little Jamaican flavor, a little something that I use that they’re not familiar with so they still enjoy it.
AR – How has the culinary arts changed over the years?
WPS – When I first entered the culinary arts field, chefs were not so well identified and glorified as they are now. Now, you have Gordon Ramsey and others. In the past, there was not a particular chef you would idolize and say I want to be like this chef. Now, being a chef is becoming a staple to where people are saying, I want to be a chef. Back in the day, you never heard that as a career people wanted to capitalize on. Over time, the creativity of it has changed and there are a lot of avenues it can open for you.
AR – Are there any chefs that you admire?
WPS – I would say Gordon Ramsey. He always strives for excellence. I study him when he tries to get the best out of people. It also gets the best out of me. I listen to him when he speaks to other chefs and question them about their presentation. I often agree because it’s about setting the right standard and better experience for the client.
AR – With all of the delivery services offering ready-made meals, are people cooking at home anymore?
WPS – I doubt it. Unless you go to some rural area where the family bond is there when you come home. Where the wife is in the kitchen and the husband is there helping. Society is so gravitated to order in and food getting delivered.
AR – What makes a successful restaurant?
WPS – There’s a lot going into opening a restaurant. Your shelf life as to how long you’ll be in business and if it will be successful will be determined by your research before you decide open up a restaurant here. Certain questions have to be answered to get a better grasp of your particular client base. What time does this neighborhood die down? After 7pm, is there walking traffic? Is there parking? You think about your operating expense. You have to do your homework to decide if you’re going to be successful. If you don’t do diligence in your work before you actually break ground, you’re definitely setting yourself up for failure.
AR – What is go to meal?
WPS – Salmon, spinach and jasmine rice is one of my favorite meals to prepare.
AR – If you could cook for any 3 people dead of alive, who would they be?
WPS – Malcolm X, Bill Cosby and Barack Obama would be my choices.
AR – What is the name of the culinary school you plan on opening in Jamaica?
WPS – Simpsons Culinary Institute. I plan on opening it around April of next year. It will have about 150 students.
AR – What will be the name of your New York City restaurant?
WPS – Aquarium. I am a seafood lover and I love salt-water fish. The theme would mostly be seafood fusion. We would have a large 2,000-gallon salt-water tank in the middle of the dining room. The dining room will be built around the tank.
You can follow Chef Simpson and the get latest news and updates on Instagram @ChefWSimpson.