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Shannon Wianecki | Photo: Nina Kuna | March 5, 2013
From Lahaina to Top Chef, Sheldon Simeon’s large-portion personality is stirring things up!
After his appearance on Top Chef, Sheldon Simeon has emerged as a household name. But how did this humble Hilo boy land celebrity-chef status? It all started with a woman. He moved to Maui and took a dishwashing job at Aloha Mixed Plate just to be close to her. Fast-forward a decade, and Simeon is not only running the AMP kitchen, he’s also helped launch two other award-winning restaurants.
From the moment his Star Noodle restaurant opened in Lahaina in 2010, the executive chef began collecting national praise for his fresh approach to local flavors, including accolades from the James Beard Foundation and the readers of Food & Wine. Then Bravo called. Simeon qualified for Top Chef’s season 10 with a dish that’s beloved by fans back home: fried Brussels sprouts salad.
“I was nervous,” Simeon admits. “Being in front of the camera 24/7 and competing against chefs who’ve cooked in three-star Michelin kitchens was intimidating! But I realized good food is good food. Put love and passion into it and it doesn’t matter if you’ve cooked on a gold range in Paris.”
While other chefs went ballistic on the set, Simeon quietly slipped aloha into every episode. He paid homage to Hawai‘i’s multicultural flavors during numerous Quickfire challenges. When contestants had to break down a whole side of beef, Simeon turned his round cut into kalbi. The judges praised his smoky dashi, served with chili-oil-poached cod, and his team’s geoduck sashimi with apple and ponzu.
“It’s nice to bring recognition to Hawai‘i’s culinary scene,” says Simeon. “I see a new brigade coming up.” Back at home, Simeon mentors students from Maui Culinary Academy, his alma mater. Despite his stratospheric success, Simeon is still a local boy at heart, playing ‘ukulele when he can and preferring his father’s pancit noodles to fancier dishes. As for that woman he was chasing? She’s now his wife—and biggest fan.
Take away from Top Chef
“My family is my top priority. Whenever I thought of them, I could calm down and concentrate.”
He didn’t even tell his wife, Janice, what happened on the show! “That way she watched with her friends and enjoyed the suspense.”
Weapon of choice
Konusuke carbon chef’s knife
Favorite comfort food
“Old-school backyard: ‘opihi, smoke meat, homemade Portuguese sausage. Whenever I go home to Hilo, I get to fill my freezer.”
All-time favorite meal
A recent dinner at Vintage Cave was among the best in Simeon’s life. Chef Chris Kajioka sent out 23 epic courses for Simeon and friends to feast on.