Walnut Grill is one of the most successful local restaurant chains in the Pittsburgh area — and recently expanded into the St. Louis, Mo. market! We caught up with Corporate Executive Chef Randy Simpson on what’s cooking up for the new year. And, for Valentine’s Day, consider the tasty lobster chowder, surf ’n turf, chocolate dessert, and more! — Ian Mikrut
How did your career begin?
Randy Simpson: My background began as a dishwasher at Fox Chapel Golf Club. I worked harder and became a line cook there, and that is when I knew I wanted to be a chef. I decided to go to Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., where I received my bachelor’s degree in culinary arts. During that time, I worked at Sun Valley Ski Resort in Ketchum, Id. I also worked for the Radisson Airport Hotel in the banquet kitchen, working various parties and events with 50 to 5,000 people. I returned home to become a sous chef at Sewickley Heights Golf Club, working catering, off-premise parties, and weddings. Then, I joined the Walnut Grill team to open the first Walnut Grove in Fox Chapel Plaza.
What’s your typical day like?
RS: The day in the life of a corporate chef? A nonstop circus, in my mind. I currently have four restaurants in Pittsburgh to overlook, as well as the new location in St. Louis. It’s a lot of cost control and inventory of the right product, and current pricing. I am constantly teaching, and trying to help the staff and stores be the best they can be. It is just like being a teacher in school or a university; I am always trying to find out what’s new, what people want, and how Walnut Grill can portray that perfectly to our guests. It is a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day job — holidays and weekends are all the same, but I love it.
How do you choose new menu items?
RS: All of our menus are the same from Pittsburgh to St. Louis. I take into consideration our clientele and their lifestyles, and what they want to eat for our menu. I try to keep with the trends and give guests the freshest quality product we can find. Sometimes, I come up with old classics and give them new twists that go with the style of our restaurant.
What are you working on right now?
RS: New, fresh salads, which we are known for, as well as fresh, seasonal fish in various styles.
What are your future goals?
RS: We would like to open two to three more locations in St. Louis in the next two years. We also plan to open more locations in Pittsburgh, including along the I-70 corridor. Philadelphia and Florida have sparked our interested as well.