As the chef and proprietor of Wong, CafÃ© Asean and formerly of Jefferson, Simpson Wong exemplifies the contemporary chef who is adept at integrating his many global influences. A native of Malaysian with Chinese ancestry, Wong had lived, traveled and studied cuisine throughout Asia and Europe.
A self-taught chef, Wong learned much from helping his mother prepare meals for his fatherâ€™s timber company in Malaysia. They worked in remote reaches of the rain forest, where trips to the market were rare. His mother grew many of her own fruits, vegetables and herbs, and cooked them freshly picked. She instilled in Wong an appreciation for fresh, organic produce and clean, simple flavors that characterize his food to this day.
Throughout his early professional life, Wong dreamed of opening his own restaurant. As a banker in Kuala Lumpur, and as a United Nations liaison in New York City, Wong dedicated his off-hours to further educating himself in all things culinary. He absorbs everything, in four-star dining rooms, at lunch counters and from sidewalk vendors and markets in all of New Yorkâ€™s neighborhoods. He learned new techniques from friends in the restaurant industry, and read cookbooks voraciously. Wong put this heightened knowledge to direct use in catering for art galleries and film projects.
In 1996, Wong finally realized his dream and opened CafÃ© Asean, a cozy West Village restaurant serving Vietnamese, Thai and Malaysian dishes. The New York Times reviewer Eric Asimov raved that he â€˜loved the fresh, direct qualityâ€ of the cooking. After 18 years, diners continue to embrace CafÃ© Asean till today. Despite this early success, Wong continued to travel, to learn, and to refine his skills.
The notebooks in which he obsessively recorded his experience and ideas were the foundation of Jefferson, which opened in early 2003, where he served a New American menu that brought together diverse influences not just from Asian but from all regions of the world. Jefferson garnered a superlative two stars from William Grimes of the New York Times, who wrote that Wong has â€œa refined palate, and he pays close attention to texture and interplay of unusual flavors.â€ Jefferson was also voted â€œBest Neighborhood Restaurantâ€ by New York Magazine in 2003. Wong and Jefferson have been featured in multiple media fronts, including Martha Stewart Living TV, CBS The Early Show, and Sex and The City, as well as on the pages of The New York Times, Time Out New York, to name but a few.
Tragically in 2005, Wong suffered a heart attack that forced him to close Jefferson. His heart attack at the young age of 42 was due to an inherited cholesterol disorder. Since the closing of Jefferson, Wong has educated himself on the impact of diet and nutrition and has come to realize their central importance in health. He has forged a new style of cooking that is both health-conscious and delicious. His new way of cooking relies heavily on fresh ingredients from local farmers and purveyors. On most days, Wong can be seen foraging for meat and produce at Union Square Market close to where he lives. During this time, Wong also took the opportunity traveling around the world to further expand his culinary repertoire.
He visited his homeland on several occasions, visiting different regions of Malaysia as well as to other countries in Asia. His journey also took him to places as far as Australia, like Sidney and Melbourne, the latter considered by many to be the culinary capital of the world. With his newfound inspirations and insights, Wong opened his latest eponymous restaurant in Greenwich Village in 2011.
Considered to be the first Asian locavore restaurant, Wong again garnered critical acclaim by earning two stars from Pete Wells of the New York Times. One of Wongâ€™s dishes, the Lobster Egg Foo Young, was among the eigth most memorable dishes chosen by the Times for the year 2012. On the heels of this success and driven by his restless creativity, Wong is poised for yet another exciting new venture in 2013â€¦