9 Q’s with Sheldon Simeon
From Maui to KTOWN, Top Chef "Fan Favorite" Sheldon Simeon co-hosted a luau with us on May 15, 2019. Big Hawaiian luau plates, live surf-tiki music and boozy Blue Hawaiians, it was a night to remember, #HLAYforever style. We commemorated his long journey to the mainland with the following interview.
1. You’re famous. Top Chef-famous. After all the successes, what about you has NOT changed?
With this so-called "fame," I still think that I'm a pretty normal Hawaii dude that would rather be wearing slippahs (aka flip-flops) and board shorts at all times, who loves playing the ukulele, cares for his community and puts ohana first.
2. All of your restaurants are in Maui — not even your native island (which is the Big Island). Why Maui?
When I was attending Maui Culinary Academy, I did an internship at Walt Disney World. I worked at Peco's Bill Cantina — you should've seen what they had us wear, haha! And it was there that I met and fell in love with a Maui girl, who is now my wife and babies' mama! One day, I hope to return to Hilo, the Big Island town that I grew up in, but Maui has been so great to me. I've had the opportunity to open a few restaurants there, and there's been nothing but an outpour of support from the Maui community. I think what makes Maui special, especially the dining scene, is the camaraderie between chefs, suppliers and the industry. We cheer each other on, our victories, and care for each other through the struggles. It's great and always mentioned when witnessed by outsiders.
3. What is a Hawaiian phrase you would use all of the time if everybody knew what it meant?
UTU BANG BANG! Bwahahaha! Go check this braddah out and his music: Ka’ikena Scanlan. #SmokeMeatNotDrugs
4. What does “Chef” mean to you anyway?
In this day and age, there are so many facets to the modern chef — not only cooking, but operating, marketing, social media and so on. But Chef for me = LEADER. To me, you shouldn't have the honor of being called Chef if you are not a Leader. Someone that people will follow, someone that has a clear vision on this world. Vision that doesn't yet exist, but inspires others to believe in what you believe.
5. How do you prevent getting grays in your beard?
Err, that routine of staying young seems to be getting a bit more challenging as days go by. But I'm constantly inspired by my young staff — by their creativity, curiosity, and individuality. Pushes me to look outside of my norm.
6. What is the most overrated Hawaiian ingredient?
"Gourmet" or "artisan" Hawaiian sea salts. Yeah, those red, black, lava-colored ones. Actual Hawaiian sea salt, made according to ancient traditions, cannot be sold.
7. When do your best ideas hit you?
My best ideas seem to hit me when I'm away from Hawaii and thinking about home and craving for something from it.
8. Your kitchen training is very unique and seemingly un-Hawaiian — tell us about it! Where and who do you attribute most of your learnings, technical or creative?
Other than my short internship at Walt Disney World and my time on Top Chef, my whole cooking career has been in Hawaii. I've alway loved cooking and grew up surrounded by a family of food lovers. From very young age, I looked up to guys like Roy Yamaguchi and Sam Choy. Once I was in culinary school, I devoted my whole life to cooking. I knew that it was all I ever wanted to do in life. I'm a real geek and fan of cooking. Always was and always still lurking on the latest trends and who's doing cool shit. And now more than ever, curious about the stories and history connected to the recipes and ingredients that I cook with.
9. What is your superpower?
Being the the Nice Guy.
Sheldon Simeon is the Chef/Owner of Tin Roof and Lineage, both located on the island of Maui. He competed in the 10th season of “Top Chef” and returned to the Bravo Network show for its 14th season, winning 'Fan Favorite' both times. All-time moment for us: He shredded the ukelele in a live performance with surf-tiki band The Cauterizers on May 15, 2019 inside Here's Looking At You.