Chef Donnie Simmons grew up as a food curious youngster who experienced firsthand the smoky barbecue shacks and fried fish joints of North Carolina. It was there that he learned the secrets of North Carolina’s unique style of barbecue and cleaned his first fresh trout. That foundation served him well as he began a series of stages and stints at some of the South’s finest restaurants. But he did not limit himself to Southern cuisine. He learned alongside some of the region’s most influential international chefs. HE embraced the Mother Sauces of French cooking, the classics of Italian cuisine and the presentation styles that both cultures consider so important to a finely presented meal. The opportunity arose to fuse Simmons’ passions – music and food – at Food To Die For in Charlotte, and Simmons tackled the challenging world of the rock ‘n’ roll catering chef, ultimately developing menus, cooking for and pleasing more than 400 performers. The rock ‘n’ roll road is a grind and just like so many of the musicians who loved his food, Simmons grew weary of the road and moved South – to Savannah GA – where he spent two years developing menus, training staff and consulting with a fledgling restaurant group. Today, he is back in Charlotte, again bringing together two of his loves – cars and speed – with food. As Executive Chef at Pit Road Bar & Grill and the catering operations of Victory Lane Karting, Simmons served up his inventive dishes to hungry racing fans and the international clientele who utilize the karting center’s meeting facilities and team building programs. Chef Donnie is truly an alumnus of the School of Hard Knocks – coming up through the restaurant ranks from dishwasher to executive chef and caterer to some of the world’s most elite clients. His natural curiosity, undying passion and unrelenting determination make him a chef that speaks with authority and quickly earns the respect of peers – and diners. Simmons’ style definitely pays homage to his Southern roots but will often include elements of continental cuisine or a playful element from molecular gastronomy. Above all, his plates are always bright and inviting, delicious and full of surprises.
“My first recollection of a memory-making flavors came under the shade of the old pear tree and a giant fig tree in my grandparents’ yard. A bite into one of those juicy pears was sweet and delicious and as unique as anything I had ever tasted. The figs were sticky and rich, sweet and chewy. Today, that is the necessary foundation of every dish I prepare: to deliver the flavor – or flavors – in a way that makes a memory for my guests. I began in food service as a dishwasher but quickly found that even as an easily distracted teenager that the magical alchemy of cooking was a passion. The marriage of flavors, textures and ingredients developed slowly, but then became an all-consuming passion. The best in this business are fueled by passion, not by accolades or honors, not by paychecks or embroidered chef’s jackets – but by sheer passion. The road has not been easy. I have earned my stripes with experience and perseverance. Along the way I was lucky enough to mentored by extraordinary chefs, good role models and diners who good-naturedly allowed me to place before them some beautiful plates full of memories. My food is built on the regional cuisines of my childhood – but gets a 21st-century overhaul with new ingredients and new methods that reintroduce, not reinvent.” Chef Donnie Simmons