Simeon Hall Restaurant Management Group
Horry – Georgetown Technical College
Bahamas Hotel Training College
Gold Medal, Taste of the Caribbean, CHA 2013
Welcome to the latest installment of Yes Chef! – our culinary Q&A with top Caribbean chefs around the world. Today we feature “Farm to Table” advocate, Chef Simeon Hall Jr. of The Bahamas.
As a private chef, his delicacies have been requested throughout The Bahamas and the Caribbean and as an advocate of Farm to Table cuisine, Chef Hall educates everyone – including fellow chefs – on a style he describes as “simply using local ingredients with global techniques”. He has hosted a series of pop-up events in partnership with other local chefs that have received rave reviews.
EAT The Caribbean: Living in The Bahamas where 90% of food is imported, how challenging has it been to truly create Farm to Table cuisine?
Chef Simeon Hall Jr.: Extremely. We are doing something that has never ever been truly done. We are starting from ground zero. However I knew that when I started, the mission then became not just to throw these events, but to connect local farmers, fishermen and chefs together.
ETC: How has the response been from diners of your cuisine?
SHJ: Overwhelming fantastic. All have been sold out. But the best part is that we have a couple that have attended all.
ETC: We see that you have brought together other Bahamian chefs and are encouraging them to use local ingredients. How has their response been and do you believe that the attitude toward local sustainable food sources can grow among Bahamian chefs?
SHJ: Honestly it has been slow but it is happening. My “in your face” style has gotten a few chefs to support more local farmers and it will be something that we do until every chef supports local.
I wish to have locals and guests alike enjoy thecuisine of the Bahamas, not only in the walls of their hotels but from the streets of the city. Literally!
ETC: What other chefs, Caribbean or otherwise, have influenced you most? How?
SHJ: Wow, that question is impossible for me to answer. So many people, places and things have influenced my style and flavor of how I cook. From the Italian Nonna I cooked with earlier this year in Milan, to the memories I have of the Palm Tree Restaurant on Market Street, to chef Craig Dehli in Charleston that taught me to make sausages,to my cancer survivor cook Suzzette that made me want to use healthier ingredients. The whole is the sum of its equal parts.
ETC: How would you describe the state of Caribbean cuisine and where do you see it going?
SHJ: The Caribbean is the gateway to food in the western world. Pickling, smoking meats, barbecue and slow one-pot simmering are all techniques that originated via the slave trade to the South then into the modern world. Our spices and flavor profiles have now permeated almost every chef or home cook alike. Subsequently chefs the world over know the flavors and the foods we produce.
The thing that I see evolving is the way or style in which we present our cuisine to the rest of the world. Traditional Caribbean foods are very monochromatic and difficult to present with little eye appeal. Nowadays you can find a more elegant display of the foods Grandma and Mummy used to make.
I consider myself an ambassador of Food Culture here in The Bahamas, The Caribbean and the world.
ETC: We have found that Bahamian chefs are not as focused on building their personal brand. What is your view?
SHJ: Well we live in a country where we have so many hotels that offer hundreds of chefs an outlet to practice their craft. My colleagues in the hotels truthfully are not pushing a personal branding campaign because they simply do not need to.
However for a person like me this is not an option. I consider myself an ambassador of Food Culture here in The Bahamas, The Caribbean and the world. Whenever you have the world as your playground people need to know who you are…. having a brand that people can identify or explore is paramount.
ETC: Do you cook at home, and if so, what is your favourite dish to prepare?
SHJ: Always, my family and friends are my guinea pigs. They are the first ones to test recipes that I may be working on for months or a spur of the moment idea in the middle of the night.
ETC: What is the most under-appreciated or overlooked ingredient that you are a fan of?
SHJ: Great question. I would have to say dried conch. I am very obsessed with historical Caribbean recipes and food preparations, especially the ones that are dying off. I remember when finding dry conch was almost as easy as finding fresh conch however nowadays it is becoming a novelty item. What fascinates me about it is the art of drying the conch and the amazing unique flavor it has. Several recipes I am currently studying use dry conch so learning how to dry it using modern day techniques is now at the top of my Culinary bucket list.
ETC: What is next for Chef Simeon Hall Jr?
SHJ: Wow. I’m headed to Miami on November 8th to participate in one of the Caribbean’s biggest food events, Jamaican Jerk Festival. More pop-ups. Working on two cook books and launching a brick and mortar restaurant. To name a few things.