He’s giving back the homegrown way.
A Manhattan-based chef is opening a culinary school for Jamaican youth. The top cook at B.B. Kings Blues Club and Grill, chef Wenford Patrick Simpson, is giving back to the kids of his home country in a hands-on way. He is in the process of creating a culinary school to teach young teens and adults cooking basics and the skills to use in the kitchen. He was motivated to create a school after an eye-opening encounter with a coffee vendor on a drive to the capital Kingston. The interaction with the young seller made him think of the hard work put into the craft of food servicing, and as a motivational speaker, he was further by the influenced by the children who give him the drive, he said.
“He was the inspiration behind it, but what ignited me before was the messages from other kids who reach out to me,” said Simpson.
The culinary school will be able to enroll about 150-200 students between the ages of 14–21 years old and is set to offer a multitude of courses — some practical and others more in-depth. The program is designed to be completed in a year and a half. A few of the courses teach the ins and outs of the kitchen, and how to prepare and set food. And they will even be taught helpful business practices that come along with running a kitchen for business, according to Simpson.
“They are going to be learning about the basics, the principles of the kitchen, and decorating,” he said. “But they’ll also learn inventory, stock making, budget, profits — because being a chef is not just about being in the kitchen and cooking.”
Knowing how to cook is a skill that can be perfected, but to truly be successful and have a career in the food industry, chefs have to possess other important skills and Simpson’s school will be providing that.
“You want to educate people because if you’re going to open a restaurant, you need to know what you’re doing,” he said. “We’re going to educate them right so if they open a restaurant they’ll know how to run it.”
When students graduate the program they will find job placement in Jamaica’s hospitality and tourism sector, and this is something important to Simpson because he wants to help build the industry in his country and the young talent.
He entered the field of cooking at an early age out of necessity and grew a love for it. Growing up homeless, he taught himself how to nourish his family before landing an internship that drove his desire to enter the food industry. Now as a chef at a popular Times Square restaurant, he wants to give the youngsters the same opportunity he had because the field has a lot to offer.
“The reason why cooking stands out is because being a chef and being in the kitchen — cooking saved me. I ended up in the kitchen trying to find something to eat,” he said. “I want to open this culinary school because so much can come out of this umbrella of knowledge you can gain, whether it’s consulting, creating cookware, or opening a bakery.”
Simpson will return to Jamaica this fall to sign off on documents and finalize the location of the school, which will be in his hometown of Ocho Rios.