Don’t know what to cook? Chef Sheldon has you covered.
Monday and Wednesday nights, Tin Roof owner Sheldon Simeon goes live with more than 100 thousand Instagram followers to promote his cookbook, “Cook Real Hawaiʻi,” published in late March.
Simeon starts his Instagram TV videos with a melody on his ukulele, then ‘talks story’ with friends, some of whom are celebrity chefs and fellow “Top Chef” contestants, then prepares an ʻono meal. Simeon competed on Seasons 10 and 14 of “Top Chef,” making it to the finals and winning ‘Fan Favorite’ each time. During both seasons, Simeon swept up numerous Quickfire and Elimination Challenge wins, showcasing his sharp cooking skills.
“I have the most rad friends,” Simeon said. “To be in this circle and have colleagues that are also willing to share an hour with me to ‘talk story’ is so fun, and I feel so blessed and fortunate.”
Instead of traveling to different cities for a book tour for “Cook Real Hawaiʻi,” Simeon chats with his followers and prepares a dish from his cookbook like cauliflower katsu curry. “Book tours prior to the pandemic involved traveling around the country and going on shows,” Sheldon said. “I looked forward to it because I love traveling and meeting people but it wasn’t going to happen and I needed to promote this book.”
From seasoning lauya soup with his grandparents, to being a kitchen prep boy, restaurant owner and eventually competing twice on “Top Chef,” there are stories and recipes from every stage of Simeon’s extraordinary culinary career.
In “Cook Real Hawaiʻi,” Simeon shares more than 100 recipes that are a tribute to the rich and diverse foods he grew up eating in Hilo, Hawaiʻi. He honors native Hawaiian cooking traditions while highlighting flavors influenced by Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Portuguese cultures. Simeon also created his own spin on childhood favorites like guri guri and hurricane popcorn.
“The book is all about my experiences — the experiences of having a family that celebrates food and always cooks together, and the experiences of living in Hawaiʻi and what we eat with our neighbors,” Simeon said.
Homecooks can attempt recipes from popular Maui restaurants started by Simeon like fried garlic noodles from Star Noodle and the famous mochiko chicken at Tin Roof.
However, Simeon reassures readers that the cookbook is a great introduction into cooking and recipes were created to be foolproof. “There are so many recipes that utilize things already in your pantry,” Simeon said. The most frequent recipe Simeon sees reposted on social media from his book is Sardine Pupu. “It’s crazy how something so simple has resonated with so many people,” Simeon said. “All the ingredients you can find in your pantry: vinegar, soy sauce, onions and a can of sardines.”
A Simeon-household favorite and a recipe included in the cookbook is a classic Spam musubi. The dish is a staple at potlucks in Hawaiʻi and a treat Simeon served the crew on “Top Chef.”
After an exhausting day competing, Simeon said he wanted to make Spam musubi—a simple yet comforting taste of Hawaiʻi. With his extra Spam musubi, naturally, Simeon shared with the behind-the-scenes staff. “There’s supposed to be a wall between the contestants and film crew,” Sheldon explained. “But the sound guys wake up with you in the morning and are the first people you see. After eight weeks, you create a relationship.”
Laughing at the memory, Sheldon recalled, “It was hilarious standing in front of the judges dealing with scrutiny and you peek over to see a guy eating a Spam musubi. It made it easier to deal with the judging.”
This hospitality and cooking for others is innate to Simeon because food and aloha are intertwined. Simeon opens “Cook Real Hawaiʻi” with a reminder that aloha is not just a word but thoughtful action. Sharing food with both friends and strangers is a fundamental act of aloha.
Practicing this aloha, Simeon is donating 100% of the proceeds from his cookbook to the Maui Food Bank.
Photo credit: Kevin J. Miyazaki