Awarded the title of Fan Favorite on Seasons 10 and 14 of Bravo Network’s Top Chef, Chef Sheldon Simeon has been reaching new culinary heights over the last six years on the silver screen and beyond. Hosting the Hawaiian cuisine series of Eater’s Cooking in America, the James Beard Award-winning chef explored the unique blend of cultures that define eating on the islands.
After serving as the executive chef at Maui’s Mala Wailea and MiGRANT, he was named in Hawaii Magazine‘s Top 5 Best Hawaiian Chefs of 2014 and voted FOOD & WINE Magazine’s 2014 People’s Best New Chef for the Pacific & Northwest.
In 2016, Simeon opened Tin Roof, a mom and pop eatery in Kahului. The native Hawaiian is on the cusp of opening his second concept, Lineage, in the fall of this year on the island of Maui. Chef Sheldon Simeon plans delight guests with traditional local Hawaii fare with his first full-service restaurant. The chef weighs in on representing and marketing his culture’s cuisine, as well as his plans for the future.
What is your background in the culinary industry?
My very first job in the industry was at Pizza Hut. I freaking loved it! I first attended Culinary School at Leeward Community College, then did an internship at Walt Disney World where I met my wife, which led me to Maui. Later, I graduated with a culinary degree from Maui Community College. I started at Aloha Mixed Plate as a dishwasher/prep cook and worked my way up to Chef. I ended up working for that restaurant group for a decade while opening up Star Noodle and Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop along the way.
I was cast for Top Chef Season 10, and then I opened up MiGRANT with Shep Gordon and Chef Mark Ellman at the Marriott Wailea Beach Resort. Afterward, I opened up a humble lunch shop called Tin Roof. Now set to open new restaurant Lineage in a couple of months.
When did you decide to leap into entrepreneurship, what steps did you take?
It was kind of blessing out of nowhere. For years I’d visit this Japanese bento shop called Koko Ichiban Ya. Over time and many Chicken Katsu bentos later, I became friends with the family, father, mother and their two sons, who owned the shop. I’d always joke to them that if they were ever thinking of moving on that, I would love to take over the spot. A year before their lease renewal the father got ill. They worked through that last year, but it was difficult for them to continue. One day out of the blue, as I was driving to work, I get a phone call and on the other side of the line in a heavy Japanese accent came the words “are you ready?” and that was the beginning of Tin Roof.
How did you initially market your cuisine and what are your plans for the future?
We wanted to create a spot that was for the locals that just served honest, delicious local cuisine, a lunch spot that was accessible to everyone. We wanted to utilize good ingredients, prepared with care and efficiency for fair, reasonable prices. I think that Tin Roof hasn’t really changed much since our opening.
I hope to expand on the Tin Roof concept opening more locations. I want to continue to celebrate Hawaii cuisine in my future projects. Be able to create opportunities for the talented individuals that have been loyal to me and help them grow and be able to provide for their families.
What are some obstacles you’ve had to face while opening up or taking over restaurants, and how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest obstacles is getting used to the space and figuring out the efficiency, utilization, and safety of the area. When I took over the kitchen at the Marriott, it was a total beast, the kitchen alone was 4000+ square feet, and we served two restaurants with completely different menus out of that one kitchen. Then it was opposite to Tin Roof where the whole space is 500 square feet. We had to come up with a menu that we could prep from scratch. I love the challenge of creating the best menu that I can execute out of a space.
How did you come across the opportunity to host “Cooking in America?”
Eater approached me on doing a season in Hawaii. I was honored that they asked me to help them showcase our amazing food culture and my chef friends who are all doing our parts in celebrating the unique food culture of Hawaii. The season went well, and we continued to do more, allowing me to this amazing opportunity to visit various immigrant kitchens all over the country and get to know more about the people and food from across the globe.
Why do you believe it is important to educate viewers – and diners – on Hawaiian culture?
There are so many layers of influence and history that have all blended together seamlessly to create the food landscape you see today. It’s easier to understand if you break it down into two categories “Hawaiian” food vs. “Hawaii’ food. So Hawaiian food is that of the first people to settle in Hawaii, the Kanaka Maoli and the Hawaiians. Hawaii food comes from the influence of immigrants that came to work on sugar plantations.
What is some advice that you would like to give a food entrepreneur that wants to highlight their culture’s cuisine?
It has got to come from the heart, stay true to yourself. You’re creating those happy moments and memories for your customers. You want that same feeling that you had when eating the food you grew up with.
About the Author
Jenna Rimensnyder is a staff writer and content specialist for Entrepreneurial Chef, having studied Journalism, Media, Food Writing & Photography from the University of South Florida. She combines her love of writing and passion for food to capture stories of inspirational food entrepreneurs and spread across the web. Follow along at JennaRimensnyder.Com.
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