B I O G R A P H Y
A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Simon has worked "the line" alongside some of the country's most outstanding toques, modern-day masters of the culinary arts such as Andre Soltner of Lutece, Jean-Jacques Rachou of La Cote Basque, and Jean Georges Vongerichten of Vong and Jo Jo., Like Vongerichten, Simon's cooking relies on the simplicity of lightly steamed and sauteed foods, replacing the traditional basics of French cooking such as butter, cream, flour and essentially, heavy, thick sauces, with vegetable juices, vinaigrettes, flavored oils, and broths. Says Simon, "By using a handful of simple sauces and broths, the diner is able to experience food's natural,intense flavors, and as a result, the dishes themselves, end up lighter, fresher." Devised from the best locally-raised produce, Simon balances a menu of rich, seasoned foods with a selection of light, yet highly inventive, dishes. Typical of his approach are his slow-cooked 12-minute salmon with roasted root vegetables and wild mushrooms, and his pistachio-crusted grouper with tarragon carrot broth and julienne of snow peas -- dishes that encourage the senses to explore and even meditate upon the flavors presented.
Simon developed his high-style, low fat technique while working with Vongerichten in the mid-eighties at New York's critically-acclaimed, four-star restaurant, Lafayette, the place where Simon finally connected with his classical and highly disciplined, French training -- an education that at one time, compelled him to travel overseas to explore his true, culinary identity.
THE SEARCH BEGINS
After graduating from CIA with an intensive, two-year apprenticeship under his belt, Simon moved to New York to work as a vegetable cook and saucier at Rachou's La Cote Basque and La Lavandou, then as a chef de partie at Soltner's Lutece. Feeling isolated from his French mentors, Simon decided to accept a job in London' s fashionable West End working as a personal chef for a prominent, local businessman. While in London, he traveled frequently to the birthplace of his culinary training to gain better insight and understanding into its cultural eccentricities. Finally, after some heavy soul searching and a newfound appreciation for French culture in his mental repertoire, Simon felt he was ready to return to the States. Still unsure about the direction he was headed back on American soil, he took another job as personal chef working for New York insurance mogul, Saul Steinberg. The creme de la creme of New York society, Gayfred and Saul Steinberg entertained constantly, and it was here that Simon met and fed many a privileged palette including that of senator Ted Kennedy.
It was around this time period that Simon sensed a big change was about to happen on New York's fast-paced culinary scene. Simon's contemporaries, other American-born yet classically-trained chefs such as Larry Forgione and Charlie Palmer were starting to "make some noise." Says Simon, "You could feel in the air that something was developing." This something was American food. And when it started taking off, Simon was ready to make his official comeback, returning to the restaurant business to work for free at Louis Outhier's newly-opened, Lafayette, under then rising-chef Vongerichten. As sous chef, and later, pastry chef at Vongerichten's restaurant, Simon began experimenting with the "new French" cuisine, food that was becoming decidedly more "Americanized," utilizing more American products, less heavy creams and butters.
Around the same time, The Plaza Hotel had been interviewing for a chef for the hotel's main dining room, "The Edwardian Room." According to Simon, once he met The Plaza's venerable Ivana Trump, then owner, it was instant karma. The next day he was hired, thus beginning his rapid ascent into the world of "celebrity" chefdom. It was in the Plaza's cavernous kitchen that Simon hosted private chef's tables for Ivana and her friends. Regular guests, who later became friends, included Debbie Harry, Diane Keaton, David Lynch, Nicole Miller and Sting. Simon kept a journal during his Plaza days, a book of doodles and letters given to him by his gracious guests and has plans to publish the material into a cookbook one day.
When Ivana left the hotel, so did Simon. His father had just passed away, and he was finding it harder and harder to keep up with the grueling pace of the big city. At the invitation of a friend, Simon traveled to Miami's up-and-coming South Beach area to collaborate on a dinner at the newly-renovated Raleigh Hotel. A huge success, Simon was asked by the hotel's owner to open the Raleigh "Blue Star" in 1992. With the Plaza under new management, and the recent death of his father, Simon opted to give sunny, South Florida life a try.
MODERN AMERICAN MEETS MIAMI
After the Blue Star, Simon moved on to the now-defunct Starfish, and most recently, the restaurant which occupied Mercury's current digs, Max's South Beach. With his gentle nature and built-in website of famous friends, Simon keeps a constant stream of celebrities parading through the restaurant's doors, earning him a stellar reputation as one of the new breed of "celebrity," if not, one of the most photogenic, chefs.
Last year, his former restaurant was named one of the "Best New Restaurants In America" by noted food writer, John Mariani, in the November 1995 Esquire, and one of the best in Florida by Florida Trend. He has been a featured guest on Television Food Network's "TV Diners" and "Food News and Views" programs and has lent his culinary skills to well over 100 charitable events and fundraisers, from the streets of his native Philadelphia to the lush vineyards of the Napa Valley. Most recently, Simon became one of the few top chefs in the country to receive his own listing on what Microsoft has called "the best food site on the Internet" - starchefs, Worldwide Web address, http://starchefs.com. Subscribers to online services from America Online to Prodigy can plug into the STARCHEFS website to read about Simon's career highlights, view Mercury's menu or find out how to prepare some of his most popular recipes.
In his spare time, Simon follows a diet and fitness regimen that closely resembles his cooking style - high-style, low fat, imbibing fruit and vegetable smoothies daily, along with the prerequisite muffin and fruit salad. His weekly fitness mantra involves a moderate combination of jogging, kayaking and working out with a personal trainer, providing some much-needed "private" time. Says Simon, "When you're 40 years old, soon to be 41, and working the line in the kitchen every day, it hits you. I used to be very resilient but as I get older, I feel the pressure more. Exercise helps me to relax, it's a focus."
Kerry Simon is now working, once again, under his mentor Jean-George Vongerichten at the Prime
Steakhouse in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
Contact: Karen Shnek
Karen Shnek Public Relations
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