The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2015

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40  /  the tasting panel  /  june 2015 CHEFS: ONE-ON-ONE WITH MERRILL SHINDLER C hef Wenford Patrick Simpson grew up in Jamaica—not in Kingston or Montego Bay or Ocho Rios, but in lesser known parishes, like St. Ann's and Clarendon, which makes the fact that he is the Executive Chef at a New York City restaurant and nightclub that seats 700 diners all the more remarkable. He's gone from the land of ackee and saltfish, jerk chicken and stamp 'n go, to the BB King Blues Club & Grill—one of the Big Apple's most sophisticated entertainment venues. And on the way, he was chef for the Royal Caribbean Cruise and Disney Cruise Lines. His career arc isn't quite like anyone else's, and from the Land of Reggae to the City of Ralph Lauren, he's kept it spicy—just like BB King's guitar. Merrill Shindler: Last time I was in Jamaica, I had the hardest time finding Jamaican food. Tourists don't seem interested in eating local . . . Wenford Patrick Simpson: Some hotels have jerk chicken on the menu. But it's not the same food we eat at home. You want real Jamaican food—curried goat, bammy bread, collard greens, spicy jerk—you have to go to the countryside. And the best is at home. Why is it that mothers and grandmoth- ers are always the best cooks? Cooking is hard work. It takes a lot of heart. It takes a lot of understanding. It takes people who respect the ingredients. Jerk chicken, oxtail, fish—they don't taste the same as when grandmother or mother make it. They have the passion. They can feel the flavor in their souls. Did you grow up cooking in Jamaica? I'm native born and bred. I grew up with so many spices and so many herbs. I learned it was all about the flavor when I had to become a cook for my younger sister. Our mom was at work, so I had to do the cooking. Was there one Jamaican dish that was yours? When I was chef at the Club Caribbean Hotel in Jamaica, I made a coconut curry salmon. Guests couldn't get enough of it. It was salmon, which they knew—but with so many new flavors. Where did you learn Southern cooking? The cruise lines had many different res- taurants on them. I cooked in many of them. I learned about candy yams and chicken 'n waffles. Different spices from Jamaica. But lots of passion. Did you ever have to dress as a charac- ter on the Disney cruises? Not me. But the servers did. We always knew who was who. It was so funny having Mickey serving the salad—and the guests never knew. Tell me about cooking for so many people at a blues club. Planning, lots of planning. When a show starts at eight, there'll be a line to get in. Everyone wants to eat at once. The kitchen gets crushed. But you make it work. And what do you eat after a night feed- ing hundreds of hungry blues fans? I'll defrost a frozen pizza. I'll stop at a Chinese takeout on the way home for chicken wings. I'll stop at KFC. A lot of my friends have a problem cooking for me because I'm such a perfectionist in flavor and taste. Wenford Patrick Simpson B. B. KING BLUES CLUB & GRILL, NEW YORK CITY PHOTO: STUART TRACTE Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson in front of the celebrated music venue in New York. The legendary B.B. King passed away on May 14 at the age of 89, just as we were going to press.—Ed.

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