Wenford Simpson: Saved by culinary art
Imagine growing up in an indigent family, having to beg your neighbours for food or sweep their yards and clean their pig pens, just to get a meal. For anyone, this overwhelming situation would induce immense feelings of hopelessness. But the tale of Wenford Simpson was just the opposite: the oil of his lamp kept burning bright until he was able to cease his success.
You may know him as Chef Wenford, a renowned and talented culinary artist who turns his hands to make tasty fashion. He is currently a proud Jamaican ambassador in New York and an exceptional motivational speaker, using his story to inspire and challenge children. But his childhood life, shared between the parishes of Clarendon, and St Ann, was anything but normal.
"It was definitely not easy. I was sleeping on the cold concrete and went to school without any lunch and went home to no dinner. Plus, I didn't grow up knowing my dad, so I was forced to figure out how to be a man on my own," he explained to Outlook.
Leaving Marcus Garvey Technical High in 1989 with excellent passes in seven subjects, including food and nutrition, you would expect that his situation would change for the better. It only got worse. He was faced with the harsh realities of homelessness in the same year, when his stepfather at the time decided that he didn't want Simpson or his sister to be in the house they were living in, with him. So, he expedited his departure, only under the basis that his stepfather would allow his sister to stay, to which he obliged.
A year later, Simpson's life was finally making progress; he went from being homeless to cooking on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Pretty soon, he was living in New York. But due to financial constraints and racism, he found it hard to navigate and begun contemplating suicide.
BECOMING A CHEF
The culinary arts became his saving grace.
"I have always been passionate about comparing ingredients and cross-using them, but I knew that I wanted to become a chef when I was cooking for my sister and I accidentally spilled curry into the cabbage. She and her friends laughed at me; it brought me to tears, and I decided that I am going to prove to her that I can cook," Simpson revealed.
With teary eyes and a broken voice, a young Simpson vowed to his sister that he would become a great chef in the future. It's a dream he accomplished several years later. Now, he has numerous accolades to prove his prowess in the kitchen, assuming top positions, including being the executive chef at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan, New York, are just the icing on his cake.
"I love seeing people react to my cooking. If they think it tastes fresh and flavourful and says so, that's the best. Taking something that is a necessity, like eating, and turning it into an experience is what the culinary arts are all about," he boasted.
Today, he dreams of owning multiple restaurants across the US and the Caribbean. Also, his Ocho Rios-based culinary school is scheduled to be open in October of this year, and Simpson hopes to extend his reach among the youth by increasing his annual motivational tours; and with his powers as an ambassador, he yearns to improve Jamaica's education system.
He hopes that everyone will learn from his experience.
"I've learnt so many great life lessons, and this is why I choose to share it and motivate and inspire the future generation. Always believe in yourself, always have faith, never give up; be your number one cheerleader. Whatever you do, believe in your inner voice - the positive one, and surround yourself with the right people going in the same direction you're trying to go in life. Always keep God in the circle of everything you do."