As the chef and proprietor of Wong, Cafe 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 father'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 Yorker 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 Cafe Asean, a cozy West Village restaurant serving Vietnamese, Thai and Malaysian dishes. The New York Times reviewer Eric Asimov raved that he be loved the fresh, direct quality of the cooking. After 18 years, diners continue to embrace Cafe 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 a refined palate, and he pays close attention to texture and interplay of unusual flavors. At Jefferson was also voted the Best Neighborhood Restaurant 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.