talk story with chef sheldon simeon

The Rising, Young Star of Star Noodle & Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop

Chef Sheldon Simeon is a very busy man. Not only is he executive chef at the wildly popular Star Noodle in Lahaina, but now he also oversees the kitchen at the newly opened Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop in Olowalu (look for a feature story on Leoda’s in an upcoming issue of The Maui Concierge). Chef Sheldon recently took a break from his hectic schedule to visit with us so we could find out what makes this rock star of the Maui culinary scene tick.

TMC: Did you cook much while growing up?

SS: I’ve been surrounded by good cooks my entire life—my dad, my mom, and my grandparents are all amazing cooks. I grew up on the Big Island and my dad worked two jobs, so my brother and I started cooking our own food when we were kids. My dad has eight siblings, and my mother has eleven, so there are tons of cousins, aunts, and uncles in my family. Our house was always the central gathering place for the entire family. But my dad is a much better cook than I am, in my eyes. I am blessed to have learned so much from my parents.

TMC: What made you decide to become a professional chef?

SS: Because I’m a lazy, local boy, I didn’t really want to go to college. I went through some mechanical drawing and architectural training during high school. But during my senior year, I just wanted to go surfing. My parents said, “All right, but you’ve got to figure out something. What are you going to do?” My brother had already gone through culinary school [he’s three years older than Chef Sheldon], and it was a breeze for him. So I thought, “Let me go to culinary school, and I can still go surfing.” But I was still passionate about it [cooking], and I knew if I wanted to I could get good at it.

TMC: Would you do it all over again?

SS: Yes, I have no regrets about what I’ve done. I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in right now.

TMC: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?

SS: I’d own a boutique selling urban street wear. I collect shoes, hats, t-shirts, and jeans. Maybe someday it will be noodles and clothes!

TMC: Who is your idol in the culinary world?

SS: Going through culinary school Iron Chef Morimoto was, of course, a big influence. And for him to be so humble at the level he’s at is very inspiring. But lately I’ve come to admire Chef Tyson Cole. He’s a sushi chef who owns Uchi + Uchiko in Austin, Texas. His style of food has been influencing me lately, and also his philosophy of “why not?” when putting things together. It seems so simple, but why didn’t anyone else think of putting those combinations together? His plating and the way he infuses humor into his food are amazing.

TMC: What is your favorite ingredient?

SS: Raw fish. I love making poke and working with anything raw from the sea. It’s my favorite way to eat because it’s the way I grew up.

TMC: What’s essential in your kitchen?

SS: My chef’s knife. I tell culinary students that if there’s one thing you invest in it’s one great chef’s knife because it will do everything for you.

TMC: How do you develop new menu items?

SS: We always take an idea, which doesn’t have to be food related—it could be the color green, wind, smoke, or anything else—and we go from there. I like to take a lot of the foods I grew up eating and apply European techniques I’ve learned, like how to properly braise something or how to properly cut something so that it looks good on the plate. It’s fun to take an idea and just run with it. But it always has to taste good! That’s the most important thing.

TMC: What do you consider to be your best creation?

SS: Our Ahi Avo on the Star Noodle menu. It’s such a simple dish, and the flavors really work. It’s ahi chunks dressed with usukuchi [light soy sauce], lemon-pressed olive oil, and sambal [spicy Southeast Asian condiment]; with avocados and green onions. I like the flavor of citrus in food, but not the aspect of how it partially cooks whatever it comes in contact with. So when I discovered lemon-pressed olive oil, I found out you can get that great citrus flavor, but the fish is still raw. So you still get lusciousness and creaminess, like when you eat sashimi.

TMC: When at home, what do you like to eat? Do you do all the cooking?

SS: My wife, Janice, is a great cook, and she does mostly all the cooking. My favorites are Vienna sausage, rice, and furikake—that’s the local boy in me—or Portuguese sausage, eggs, and rice. Her Filipino food is also wonderful.

TMC: Do you have a funniest kitchen moment you can share?

SS: I started as a chef at Aloha Mixed Plate [same ownership as Star Noodle] and our Shoyu came in five-gallon containers. It was the beginning of my shift, and I was trying to open a new container. I was playing with the cap when all of a sudden it released and all five gallons of Shoyu came pouring out all over me and the floor. There was nothing I could do, so I just stood and watched! I was completely soaked in soy sauce! I had started my shift that day at eight o’clock in the morning, and had to work through a lunch shift while soaked in soy sauce, and also had to go to my second job. It was a very long day!

TMC: How did it feel to be voted Chef of the Year by your peers in Maui No Ka Oi magazine?

SS: Of all the awards I’ve received, to be recognized by my peers is an honor for sure!

TMC: Is there anything I didn’t ask that I should have, is there anything you’d like to add?

SS: The success of all of our outlets is due to the passion of our owners, and they instill that passion in all of us. We all enjoy what we do!

Of course, a visit with Chef Sheldon wouldn’t be complete without sampling his delectable Star Noodle cuisine! After hearing all about it, we had to try the Ahi Avo (market price—it was $18 on this day). The flavors were well balanced with that bright note of citrus Chef Sheldon likes so much (we liked it, too!). The pan roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, Napa cabbage, and kim chee puree ($9) were oh, so tender, and pleasantly savory. The Vietnamese Crepe ($12) is a work of art! A crispy “crepe” is stuffed to overflowing with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts, and served with a vibrant nuoc cham dipping sauce. Finally, the Lahaina Fried soup ($8 small/$12 large) is comfort food at its best: fat chow funn, ground pork, and bean sprouts. To accompany our meal, we had the special drink of the day (non-alcoholic—$5): club soda, simple syrup, yuzu, and calamanci limes. Due to the strong flavor of the limes it tasted pretty puckery by itself; but it nicely complemented the complex flavors in the food. Well done, Chef Sheldon!

–heidi pool

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