By Chester Simpson
1909 Mount Vernon Avenue
When did you first become interested in cooking and why did you decide to pursue a culinary career?
I became interested in cooking when I was growing up watching my Grandmother make amazing meals over an open fire or baking in the wood fired oven. I worked with my hands most of my life, when I wasn’t playing soccer. I worked in a restaurant for a while doing almost every job they had. My aim was to learn, help the customers have a good time and keep the boss happy. My chef offered me the chance to start making rolls and I became fascinated with the art of making sushi. I’ve been doing it many years now and I really enjoy building on what I have learned by incorporating new inspiration to awaken the customers’ senses, with structure, color, texture and taste.
Who have been the biggest inspirations for your career?
My Grandmother comes to mind. She really enjoyed making her customers happy. I would give her feedback on the tamales we sold and she would be delighted. When she baked, she was a magician. No one had more enjoyment making food. I channel her joy every time I come to work. I try to bring creativity into every meal.
What dish on your menu are you most curious to see how it’s received by your clientele?
Special requests for sushi make me the most curious about how the plate will be received. It could be a first time customer, I may not know where they came from or their experiences and expectations with sushi. I take what the customer requested and try to create something special.
What do you do to ensure the quality of the food going out to customers is of high quality?
I like to begin with a clean workstation to ensure everything is ready. I like to cut my own fish to ensure the quality and freshness from the whole fish we receive all the way to the individual roll that is prepared. I also like preparing my own sauces and garnishes too. When I have help I try to keep an eye on my partner to ensure quality and presentation will remain at a high level.
If any chef in the world could prepare you a meal, who would it be?
I would love to have a meal prepared by Chef Masaharu Morimoto. He was an athlete that had his career shortened by injury like me. He established his own restaurant in Japan, but then sold it to come to New York. He rose through the ranks and is widely regarded as a premier chef. In the U.S., he worked for several restaurants, including Sony Corporation’s Executive dining rooms, rising to Executive Chef at the prestigious Sony Club and the Nobu Japanese restaurant serving the elite of social, political and corporate Japan and New York. Having passed this huge test of his skills with a highly discriminating clientele, he also cooked weekly on Iron Chef TV series. He then decided to open his own Morimoto restaurant, first in Philadelphia, then New York, Boca Raton, Napa, Waikiki, Mumbai, New Delhi and Tokyo. Finally, you can see his skills regularly on Iron Chef.
What is your guilty food pleasure?
My guiltiest food pleasure is a Big Mac with fries at McDonalds. I love it.
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