Cooking and Community: An Interview with Chef Billy Desimone

Staff Writer
For Desimone, cooking and community service go hand-in-hand
Billy Desimone

Chef Billy Desimone discusses his passion for food and community service, and his contributions to the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience.

Billy Desimone is one of the guest chefs at the heart of the 2014 St. Croix Festival. Desimone joined the team in collaboration with his brother and former Facebook chef Josef Desimone. Following the tragic and untimely death of Josef Desimone, Billy continues to pursue their shared goal of building better communities through the culinary arts.

How did you get started as a chef?

I always loved cooking. I've smoked meats & cooked for parties for years, always dreaming of doing it for a living. Once my brother, Josef Desimone, got into it, I saw the fun he was having so I went back to school and the journey began.

What was the inspiration behind starting Buffalo Diner?

I wanted to cook for a living, but I did not want to be on the corporate side of things. So I rented a building, made a plan, rolled up my sleeves, remodeled, and literally built my own restaurant. They say if you want to be CEO the best way is to start your own company. With this I could set goals, achieve them, and contribute back as I grew. Doing what I love and giving back is an incredible feeling. 

You collaborated and worked closely with your brother, how did his approach to food influence you?

My brother and I had a deep respect for each other. He was a front man and I loved it. I think we fed off of each other. We're both “get it done” people.  He specialized in high-end, tight-plated foods, while I was better with smoked meats and grilling. We both just got together & cooked. We were always learning and were fortunate to work together in many different places, putting our ideas together, trying new things, and always pushing the envelope. It’s just fun. We inspired each other.

You were part of the Facebook team. Tell us about how you got involved with them.

My brother, working as head of the Facebook culinary organization, volunteered most of his off-time to giving back. Whenever I could break away, I would go and cook with them. We had a mutual respect for each other. Working with the Facebook culinary team is infectious, it’s not even work its play.

Everyone on the Facebook team worked great together. They've even been to the diner to help with fund raisers, giving back to seniors, big brother big sister and others. If I have had an event and they could help they did and likewise. It’s no secret that I was the lucky one. It is awesome to work with any of their staff, they are fun, positive & excited about what they do. 

Tell us about how you got involved in St. Croix?

Well my brother was always doing charity events, always calling me to see if I wanted in. One day he called and said he was doing a charity event in St. Croix to work with culinary students. That wasn't a question for me; working with students, making an impact and doing it in paradise. I was in.

We hear that philanthropy is very important to you. What sorts of charities are you involved in? Where do you contribute your time?

Locally, I get involved whenever I can, from Big Brother Big Sister, to working with the Pro Start culinary students. We've done so many events, it’s really hard to list: from dinners to raise money for an accident victim, to giving to a family whose house burnt down, to helping a family who daughter needed a lung transplant, for the local fire department, anything to help the community. When I hear of something, I look to see how my team or I can make the most impact: from donating food, money, and time, to finding someone to help.  

Recently, I have started the Josef L. Desimone Giving the Dream Memorial fund to give culinary & music students the opportunity to dream, grow, and hopefully give back one day. It just feels good to help others. Everyone should try to help and give back to someone in need. One person may not be able to change the world, but you can change your community.

We hear that your demonstration at last year’s Sunset BBQ was a hit. Can you tell us about this event?

Chef Dean Spinks needed a smoker for the Sunset BBQ event, so with the help of the students, we built one out of what supplies were available. It’s like getting to play. I'm a big kid at heart; I love to play. People loved the smoker. The food was great and people enjoyed it. We enjoyed seeing the students doing it and we were there working with them. It was a blast, just pure fun watching the students grill, laugh and smile. That's how life should be.

Are there any events on the St. Croix calendar that you’re especially excited for this year?

I am looking forward to all of it: especially the warm people and working with the students.

I can’t lie, due to the fact I lost my brother last year, it will be bittersweet and sad. But in the spirit of the event, being able to do it will be an honor. I think working with the students will be at the top. They are the future of the culinary world on the island and even possibly abroad. You just never know what positive impact you may have, if you can inspire just one, it can make a difference.

The St. Croix Festival places contributing back to the St. Croix community in high esteem. How does the mission of giving back to the community reflect your values?

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Without people stepping up to contribute or give back, resources run out, people lose inspiration and even hope. Life is fragile, it should be enjoyed. It’s not about money, it doesn't take money to help. Share a smile, lend a hand. Positive feeds positive. From this, a balanced growth can occur. I think it’s great the people behind St. Croix practice what they preach: support your community, raise money for their future, and inspire growth. By helping each other along the way, we pave the road together as a community.