Sat | Dec 7, 2019

International Chef for Seafood Carnival

Published:Thursday | June 20, 2019 | 12:20 AM
Executive Chef Wenford Simpson during one of his mentoring sessions
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Now an internationally famous corporate executive chef, Wenford Simpson clearly recalls being from poor circumstances as a child. He often had very little to eat and had to create meals for his younger sister and himself from what was available. His sister sometimes laughed at his attempts but today he has the last laugh because he is now a well-sought-after master of his craft and there is food in abundance from which he prepares his exquisite meals.

Simpson will be the celebrity chef at next month’s annual Little Ochie Seafood Carnival scheduled for July 14 in Alligator Pond, Manchester.

He has come a long way from internship at Club Caribbean hotel to the Sandals chain, to the cruise ship industry. He moved on to BB King’s, Highline Ballroom Blue Note, and he is currently the Sony Hall’s executive chef.

“My cooking came out of poverty; my dad left my sister and myself with our mother when I was five, so growing up in a single-parent household, I had to be the man of the house,” he said, recalling his early foray into the kitchen.

One of his early dishes that stands out in his mind was steamed cabbage to which he mistakenly added curry powder; his sister laughed at the result and at age 11 all he could do was cry. But he did make her the prophetic promise that one day he would show her that he can cook.

“One day I’m going to be a chef, so when I attended Marcus Garvey Technical High School, I chose Food and Nutrition for my career,” Simpson told his sister then.

“After high school, I worked at Club Caribbean, followed by the Sandals group, then Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, then I came back to Jamaica and bought the buses,” he said. Simpson detoured from his journey to become an executive chef by operating a bus service between Brown’s Town and Kingston, and even operated two retail bulk chemicals shops.

“But I started to miss cooking and decided that I should get back to doing what I loved,” he said. That took him to the cruise lines before he migrated to New York.

Today, his sister is so proud of him, she followed his footsteps into the same field. “I turned a negative into a positive and she is happy for my success. I speak about her a lot in the articles written about me,” he says.

These days when Simpson visits the land of his birth, he gives many motivational talks to students at the HEART Academy, University of Technology, Penwood High School and others from the parish of his birth – Clarendon, and that of his residence, St Ann and many more.

Meeting ‘Blackie’

The meeting with Evrol ‘Blackie’ Christian from Little Ochie resulted from the latter following Simpson on social media and later attending a book launch in New York, where they met and formed a lasting friendship.

“He reached out to be the face of this year’s event because I am well recognised in Jamaica. I have a big fan base there and many people look up to me as an ambassador for Jamaica here in America, especially for the work that I do in mentoring young people there. My book will be out by then so it will be a good opportunity to introduce it to my fan base, there as well as do a book signing there too,” he said during the telephone interview.

Simpson says wherever he goes, he carries Jamaica’s flag high so it was natural for him to be invited to be part of this year’s highly anticipated Seafood Carnival in Alligator Pond. The two popular chefs will be collaborating to decide on the dishes Simpson will prepare, including some new things.

To his credit, Simpson has shared his culinary expertise on American television shows, including: Cook Up With Chef Patrick on TEMPO TV, Inna Di Kitchen on CIN TV, and Cooking With Love on CEEN TV. Plus, the Walkerswood Caribbean Foods brand ambassador has also launched his own cookbook and had the distinction of cooking for many celebrities.

“Over the years, I have cooked for many celebrities in New York, including Mary J. Blige, Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jayzee, Rihanna and Coco T, Brian McKnight and Whoopi Goldberg, and many more.”

He specialises in preparing a mix of American-Caribbean cuisine, among them jerked chicken, coconut curried salmon with fusion of Jamaican and American flavours ensuring that he does not lose his yard vibe.

At the Little Ochie Seafood Carnival, patrons can expect alltime favourites plus some new things they have not tried before. These will all be based on ingredients and what’s available in Jamaica, so Simpson says he will work with what he can source there.