A Taste of Home: Cooking With Sheldon Simeon

sheldon simeon
Images by John Hook

Maui-based chef Sheldon Simeon shares the flavors of his Filipino and Hawai‘i heritage at Migrant Maui.

He has cooked for A-list actors, music legends, and captains of industry, but when you meet Sheldon Simeon, you’ll find a chef grounded in cultural heritage. Simeon first dabbled in cooking as a kid in his family’s kitchen in Hilo. Discovering he had a knack for turning local flavors into culinary delights, he followed in his chef brother’s footsteps and enrolled in culinary school. “I originally wanted to be an architect,” Simeon admits, flashing his trademark megawatt smile. “But cooking just seemed like a more natural fit.”

Simeon quickly became a household name as the executive chef of Lāhainā’s now iconic Star Noodle and later as the executive chef of Mala Wailea, heralded for creating dishes that combined Hawaiian cuisine with Asian influences. Simeon eventually joined the ranks of the culinary elite as one of the final three contenders on Top Chef: Seattle, the very first chef from Hawai‘i to compete in the popular Bravo franchise. He may have lost the competition, but he won the hearts—and appetites—of Top Chef viewers across the country, earning the show’s coveted “fan favorite” award. To top it off, Simeon was crowned The People’s Best New Chef 2014, Northwest and Pacific region by Food & Wine magazine.

“This is how you’d eat at my house,” says Simeon.

You can sample Simeon’s culinary genius at his new restaurant, Migrant Maui. Living up to its namesake, Migrant serves up modern, local cuisine inspired by the Filipino meals and recipes of Simeon’s youth infused with the heritage of the Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese immigrants that came to work on Hawai‘i’s plantations. He says he owes his passion in the kitchen to his grandparents, who were immigrants to Hawai‘i, as well as his father, who taught him how to cook. “My dad has always been, and will always be, the best chef,” Simeon says.

On the Migrant menu, you’ll find a range of tantalizing options utilizing local ingredients, including brick oven-blistered shishito peppers, hibachi hanger steak, pancit noodles, and French onion tsukemen (ramen with a twist). With his menu, Simeon hopes to encourage his guests to embark on an epicurean adventure. “I encourage all visitors to go out and try authentic Hawaiian cuisine,” he says. “Seek out big, bold adventures for your palate, because Hawai‘i has so much to offer.”

Sheldon Simeon / FLUX Hawaii

Migrant’s catchphrase is “Come my house. Eat.” And indeed, Migrant emulates the warmth of Simeon’s childhood home, the site of vibrant family gatherings. “This is how you’d eat at my house,” says Simeon. “Plus, it’s part of our history and culture here. In the plantation days, people brought what they wanted and shared it with others.”

Without question, Migrant is a tribute to Simeon’s trailblazing style. It’s no easy task, but it’s clear that chef Simeon is up for the challenge. “I’ve learned it’s important to take chances and put your heart into what you do,” he says. “My advice to anyone in any field is to seize any opportunity that comes your way—and always be true to yourself.”

Migrant Maui is located at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, 3700 Wailea Alanui Dr., and is open seven days a week, from 5-10 p.m. (Migrant’s “Be Happy Hour” runs from 4-6 p.m. and the lounge is open until 11 p.m.). For reservations, call 808-875-9394 or visit migrantmaui.com.

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