Each dish, colored by simeon's own experiences, speaks to an exhilarating new generation of island cuisine
Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

Surrounded by family on Maui's spectacular shores, chef Sheldon Simeon prepares a soulful spread celebrating the Hawaiian and Filipino food of his youth.

By Chris Hughes

It's a dazzling lazy Sunday on Olowalu Beach with waves lapping in the background and a brood of wild chickens foraging between a tiki totem and an ancient banyan tree. Near the shore, Sheldon Simeon hunches over a Weber grill balanced atop volcanic beach rocks, dropping long beans and hunks of kabocha squash onto the searing grates, when a humpback whale breaches less than a mile from the coast. Seconds later, a bull male in the vicinity raises its tail and drums the surface of the ocean, detonating a curtain of sea spray. Even Simeon, a lifelong Hawaiian, can't help but jump up and cheer like a rabid spectator at a World Series game.

Simeon's children collect shells on Olowalu Beach.
Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

This is the magic of Maui, a tropical paradise with an unremitting sense of wonder. From his restaurant kitchens (Tin Roof in Ka-hului and the new Lineage in Wai-Lea, opening this summer), Simeon hopes to expose more people to that perpetual state of awe, while also dispelling some of the misconceptions surrounding the islands' food and culture.

Simeon takes a break from whale-watching to prep the remainder of his beach spread.
Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

"Hawaiian food is more than just white rice and Spam," he says, turning his attention away from the maritime theatrics. Using a Filipino fish-and-vegetable soup called dinengdeng as inspiration, Simeon transforms a haul of Kumu Farms produce into a grilled salad with a gingery fish sauce vinaigrette. For Simeon and the cadre of chefs joining him today—most raised on family versions of the original—this is nostalgia on a platter, right down to the Heinz apple cider vinegar at the recipe's core. Some might call this "soul food." Simeon prefers "dishes that tell a story."

Simeon's wife and business partner, Janice, enjoys a pre-sunset family picnic near the ocean.
Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

"In my family, without a lot of money to go around, it was rare to get a rib-eye," he says, as fellow chef Jeffrey Valdez slices into a shoyu-glazed sugar steak—not some aged, marbled cut of beef, but a hulking chuck roast. He hands a slice to each of Simeon's four children, voracious after an afternoon traipsing in the sand.

"Usually my dad just went for the biggest, most affordable cut of beef. And not everyone got a perfect piece, which was actually fun," Simeon adds. "There's that same practicality and element of surprise to my cooking."

Hoppin' Juan
Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

It's a reflective approach that combines a preference for ubiquitous grocery store vinegars with Simeon's undeniable culinary credentials. For every immaculate bowl of ahi poke carved from Garden & Valley Isle Seafood's tuna, there are plenty of offcuts and "nasty bits," he says, like the braised oxtail permeating each bite of his Hoppin' Juan, a Hawaiian interpretation of the peas-and-rice Lowcountry classic.

At his two Maui restaurants, Simeon works closely with the organic Kumu Farms in Wai-luku.
Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

In view of the historic Olowalu Plantation House, once home to the manager of the West Maui Sugar Company, Simeon shares recipes that have been in his family since his grandparents immigrated to Hawai'i from the Philippines to work in the island's sugar cane fields. Each dish, colored by the chef's own travels and experiences (which he says are "very Forrest Gump-ish"), speaks to an exhilarating new generation of island cuisine.

"So many chefs jump straight to modern food without understanding the roots of this type of cooking. I was guilty of it myself," he admits. "But my grandmother always told me, "You have to put your love into it." That's what I'm doing now."

Related: Perfect Weekend in Lanai, Hawaii

Make His Recipes

Peyton Simeon shows off a bowl of her dad's Ahi Poke with sweet onion.
Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

Ahi Poke
There are three keys to Sheldon Simeon’s ahi poke: the freshest fish; ogo, a lacy, reddish-brown seaweed; and inamona, a popular sushi topper made from roasted and ground kukui nuts. Order inamona online at the family-owned paradisefarmshi.com.
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Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

Cucumber Crudités with Soy Aioli and Sesame Crumble
Keep hungry guests at bay with the simple duet of crunchy cucumbers and an addictively delicious soy aioli spangled with a salty sesame crumble.
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Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

 

“My Grandfather’s Garden” Grilled Salad
If you’re looking for a centerpiece-worthy salad, your search ends here. Grill an array of in-season veggies (here Chinese long beans, kabocha squash, tomatoes, and okra), then drizzle with a gingery fish sauce vinaigrette inspired by Filipino dinengdeng.
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Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

Shoyu Sugar Steak
Barley not only thickens this soy-based glaze, but also adds an umami-rich flavor that only gets better with grilling. Brush onto any steak such as flank, ribeye, or Sheldon Simeon’s favorite, a hulking chuck roast.
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Hoppin' Juan
Photo: Erin Kunkel; Styling: Melissa Padilla

Hoppin’ Juan
Simeon likes to incorporate influences from all of his travels. For his take on Hoppin’ John, the peas-and-rice Lowcountry classic, he adds Hawaiian touches like braised oxtail—a nod to his time on Top Chef season 14 in Charleston.  
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