After making waves on Top Chef, chef Mark Simmons is now running an under-the-radar Brooklyn restaurant that's become a neighborhood gem.
Born and raised on a sheep farm in the town of Invercargill, New Zealand, his interest in cooking developed at a young age. In order to learn as much as he could about global cuisine, he traveled around the world, working in kitchens in countries including Australia and Japan before settling in the United States.
In 2008, chef Simmons appeared on Top Chef season four, set in Chicago, and shortly afterward he settled in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood. After serving as head chef in a couple of neighborhood restaurants, in August 2011 he opened up a restaurant of his own in the neighborhood, called Kiwiana.
Specializing in the cuisine of his native New Zealand, the restaurant has since become a local gem. One of the only authentic Kiwi restaurants in the city, the focus is on high-quality ingredients and New Zealand-inspired fare, and the menu includes smoked and pickled Green Lip mussels, manuka honey and Marmite-braised baby back ribs, rack of New Zealand lamb, and the traditional New Zealand lamb burger, topped with pickled beets and a sunny-side up egg.
The Daily Meal: What was your first restaurant industry job?
Mark Simmons: I started off washing dishes.
TDM: When you first walk into a restaurant, what do you look for as signs that it’s well-run, will be a good experience, etc.?
MS: A clean dining room, clean and attentive staff, and a clean kitchen.
TDM: Is there anything you absolutely hate cooking?
MS: It hurts my soul to cook venison loin well-done. I've often talked customers out of ordering "veno" well-done, so I didn’t have to go through the torment.
TDM: If one chef from history could prepare one dish for you, who would it be?
MS: That would have to be Chef from South Park. He cooks with soul.
TDM: What do you consider to be your biggest success as a chef?
MS: Opening Kiwiana.
TDM: What is the most transcendental dining experience you’ve ever had?
MS: There have been individual dishes that have made me emotional. One recently was a cheese course at Jean George. It took me back to my childhood.
TDM: Are there any foods you will never eat?
MS: I'll try anything once.
TDM: Is there a story that, in your opinion, sums up how interesting the restaurant industry can be?
MS: I Dream of Sushi is a documentary that accurately describes the passion and dedication required to make our craft successful.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.