Faith in the kitchen
Chef Daamian Simmons is well known for his culinary skills, but most don’t know how faith has contributed to his success in the kitchen.
As the executive chef at Coco Reef Resort Bermuda, he has been “cooking up a storm” as the hotel begins to offer more speciality experiences.
However, his journey to this point has not been easy at all.
“People see me and know that I am a chef but they don’t know the story behind the food,” he said.
“In 2013 I lost both of my parents basically at the same time, less than two months apart of each other. Both of their deaths were sudden and unexpected. The experience could have broken me – it almost did. I could have given it all up a long time ago – I definitely wanted to when I lost my mother – but I had to dig deep into my faith to get through it. That’s what I was brought up on, faith.”
His father, Daaman Caines, died in October of that year; his mother, Leisa Smith, passed a month later. Mr Simmons said the experience of losing his parents so suddenly forced him to find something else to look to and believe in.
“People don’t necessarily know that side, people only see the side where you’re laughing and smiling, and everything seems OK. But in reality, I was going through hell. Faith is the only thing that got me through it.”
He took those feelings of loss and channelled them into creating in the kitchen. The memory of his parents is what helps him to thrive.
“My mother used to enjoy cooking and when I told her I wanted to be a chef she nurtured that dream. Her and my Nana would buy me cookbooks and watch The Food Network with me. They poured into me.”
Mr Simmons joined the staff at Coco Reef in October 2019 but took some time off when the pandemic hit to launch his own personal chef business which he called Daaleis, a combination of his parents’ names.
He returned to Coco Reef in July as the executive chef and has been building the kitchen team and revamping the food and beverage offerings at the hotel.
There has been a “buzz” around the South Shore resort in the period since. Much of that comes from the surprise menus created by "Chef Daamian", as he is known around the hotel.
He’s just launched a new dinner menu this week and Mr Simmons is looking forward to creating more for the upcoming holiday season.
Even with this recent success, he stays grounded and humble.
“Through all the accolades and everything that comes with being a chef, I always revert to my faith. Cooking is an act of faith. You are pulling different ingredients together in the hope that it will be something amazing. And that’s kind of how life is,” he said.
“When I am feeling low my faith picks me up and tells me ‘hey, ya got things to do bie!’ Having faith means trusting the process.”
Although eight years have passed Mr Simmons is still navigating through his grief.
“I still have my moments. I had a moment just the other day. And it’s hard as man to cry in front of my wife or be brought to my knees in grief.
“It still hurts. It hurts a lot. But I try to use that pain to create something great. And I do that by creating amazing culinary experiences for others.”
Reflecting on the pandemic and the amount of unexpected loss many in our community have experienced, the chef hopes that those who are grieving can find positive ways to express their feelings.
“How do you deal with the loss of a loved one? There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way. It’s an ongoing process and it takes a while to find balance again.”
He suggests finding someone to talk to as a way to help process the loss.
“I haven’t really talked about it publicly until now. I didn’t go to therapy, but I did open up to someone about what I was going through so that I wouldn’t have to go through it alone. That person became my wife, and I am so grateful for her.
“Taking the leap to open up to her and trusting that someone would understand and could be there for me was an act of faith too. Just to know that I was not alone in this journey.”