Born and raised in Hilo on Hawaii’s Big Island, Chef Sheldon Simeon decided to take an internship at Walt Disney World in Florida. That could have easily led to a job at some anonymous hotel kitchen, the fate of many Hawaiian chefs on the tourist-dependent island. But Simeon instead decided to strike out in a completely different direction. After leaving Disney (where he met his future wife), graduating from Maui Culinary Academy in 2002, and winning second place at a local Maui culinary competition, Simeon took a job at Aloha Mixed Plate, an eclectic lunch plate restaurant in Maui. Working his way up the ladder there, Simeon’s bosses decided to send him on a tasting trip to New York City, where he sampled all the noodle bars Manhattan had to offer.
Simeon came back from the trip and took on the role of head chef at Aloha’s new sister restaurant Star Noodle, where he helped craft pork buns, ramen, udon, and yakitori—all with local twists and callbacks to techniques and products used by the older generation of Hawaiian chefs he revered. That mix of innovation and adherence to tradition on the Star Noodle menu led to two James Beard award nominations in 2011: Rising Star Chef of the Year and Best New Restaurant, as well as Food & Wine's "Best New Chef People's Choice" and StarChefs.com's Hawaii Rising Star Concept Chef in 2012. Today, Simeon believes that a chef’s emotional and physical state is reflected in his food, and that chefs need to put their soul and love into their dishes for diners to taste the difference. Judging by his dishes, Simeon has certainly done just that.
Interview with 2012 Hawaii Rising Star Chef Sheldon Simeon
Antoinette Bruno: When did you start cooking and why?
Sheldon Simeon: I always cooked. Growing up from a young age my parents taught me and my brother how to cook. My mom and dad were the best cooks I know. I was always surrounded by food. Our house was sort of the gathering spot for parties. Professionally, my first real culinary job was at Pizza Hut while in high school. I was about 16 years old. From there I just got hooked on the industry.
AB: Who is your mentor?
SS: My dad. His most important lesson was to cook with your heart. Cooking is one of the best feelings. When you cook for somebody and you know you are nourishing them, that's the best feeling. Preparing something for somebody and watching them enjoy it is amazing.
AB: What is the hardest thing you've had to do professionally?
SS: Being dedicated to my job and spending time away from my family is probably the hardest thing. I'm blessed to have an understanding wife, though, and she's very supportive of my career.
AB: What are you most proud of?
SS: Star Noodle and what we've brought to Maui. Our success and the hard work of all our cooks. Just seeing it blossom, seeing it flourish into what it is now, was amazing.
AB: How important is the culinary community on the island? How do you get involved?
SS: I'm a graduate of Maui Culinary Academy, and I'm continually in contact with them for a number of things. A lot of our employees are graduates of the program there. We take stages from the local college [and] we do a lot of community events. It's a tight community.
AB: Where do you see yourself in five years?
SS: Hopefully I'll still be with the company and have a new concept restaurant to continue what we're doing here. I'd like to hopefully see my sous chefs have the same opportunities that I've had here. I'd like to step back and see them run Star Noodle themselves. I'm the executive chef of Star Noodle but I'm not the owner. In five years I'd like to have my own place, maybe under the company umbrella.