Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of interviews with local chefs.
Darnell Ferguson has seen his share of ups and downs, from going awry as a youth to watching his St. Matthews restaurant be destroyed in a fire three years ago.
But he rebuilt his life and he reopened his restaurant; Ferguson has always risen above. Now, he’s poised to continue rising even higher.
Even as he prepares to open two new SuperChefs restaurants in Alabama — and awaits the green light on a bid to open another at the Cincinnati Airport — Ferguson has been plotting something bigger.
As a rising celebrity chef who has appeared numerous times on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, Ferguson says he believes he is on the cusp of landing his own show. The show doesn’t have a name or even a format yet, but he’s teamed up with Los Angeles-based Our House Media, which has produced shows such as “Haunted Case Files” and “Welcome to Waverly,” as well as an entertainment lawyer to find a network to produce and air the show.
Ferguson he feels like there’s a “99 percent chance” the show will happen — he says it’s just a matter of finding the right broadcast partner.
Thanks in part to his appearances in shows like last November’s “Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge” on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel show “Man’s Greatest Food” in January, the chef says, some networks have inquired about his interest to host a cooking competition show.
“I honestly believe it will be this year,” Ferguson says.
Not that he needs anything else to keep him busy. He spends hours at the Highlands location of SuperChefs every weekend, although he does find free time in the evenings during the week.
He needs all the time and energy he can get — he’s not only a busy chef and business owner, but he’s also a husband and father of six children, ranging from 6 months to 12 years old.
The latter two roles have taken precedence in his life.
“I’m really good at understanding business is just one part of my life,” he says. “I don’t want to just be a great chef, I want people to say, ‘He was a great person. He understood life.’”
He understands that helping others succeed is a success in its own right. Built into the business plan at SuperChefs is that he wants people to learn and succeed. He promotes from within, whenever possible. Two of his managers will be going to Alabama to run the new stores. And when employees become vested as general managers, they become part owners of the company.
“My biggest purpose of what I do now is for people to have the opportunity to do more than just get a paycheck,” Ferguson says. “It’s a sense of pride, you know? ‘I don’t just work here.’ I feel like we treat our people the best — I feel we take care of them in ways people have never taken care of them. We do everything to let them know were different.”
One example of this is when Ferguson helped a pair of former Sullivan classmates, Austin Harris and Devonte Bolden, open their own food service business inside Nirvana.
Part of Ferguson’s philosophy is to not focus too much on ambition, but to focus on life and enjoying it in the moment. That focus goes back to his wife, Tatahda, and their kids. Once again, he learned his lessons along the way and is using what he learned.
As such, he has no ambitions to franchise his concept. Rather than grow to 100 stores owned by numerous investors, he plans to stop at around a dozen: “I just have a different purpose than a lot of people do. Me, I just want to put a really great product out there. I learned at young age not to be overly ambitious. When you’re overly ambitious, your life fails.”
And after all the ups and downs, even if he becomes a network TV show host, he promises the Louisville location will always be the epicenter of SuperChefs.
“This is my baby,” Ferguson says, flashing a smile. “This is the everything store for me.”