Sheldon Simeon in Final Five on Top Chef
Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef, previously working in Portland, Oregon.
By Vanessa Wolf
Maui’s own Chef Sheldon Simeon of Star Noodle and Leoda’s Pie Shop continues to rock it on Bravo’s Top Chef, finishing in the top three on last week’s episode.
It’s now down to the last five “cheftestants,” and we caught up to Sheldon to ask some foodie insider questions and reconfirm that he’s quite possibly the sweetest guy to ever grace the Top Chef kitchen.
Maui Now: Were you intimidated by having to make sushi for Katsuya Uechi or did you feel like you had it under control?
Sheldon Simeon: It was definitely intimidating, yet a big honor to prepare something for Katsuya. I wasn’t about to do sushi for a sushi master; that’s why I decided to serve him sashimi instead!
MN: You prepared hamachi sashimi with fresh ponzu, mitsuba, and lemon charcoal. What’s lemon charcoal and where did you learn to make it?
SS: One day the bartenders juiced 30 pounds of lemons, and I saw the big pile peels on the table. I told one of the cooks, “Let’s roast it and see what happens.” I left the kitchen for a meeting and when I got back I saw that the lemons were still in the oven and they were burnt to charcoal. The weird thing about it was that it had a strong aroma of citrus, so we pulverized it into a powder and tasted it, and it was amazing: earthy and citrusy!
MN: Ultimately Stefan won with his yellowtail dish. Do you ever get to taste the other “cheftestants'” food and, if so, do you ever have a sense of who might win the challenge?
SS: You know, we rarely ever get to taste each other’s finished dishes. But everyone knows if they did well or not, and usually can call it on who will be on the top and who will be on the bottom.
MN: Outside of your food, which of the four remaining chefs would you most like to prepare you a big meal and why?
MN: I’d love to have Lizzie cook me a big meal. I love Italian food! Plus, she’s a sweetheart.
MN: The Star Noodle menu reminds me tremendously of the Momofuku Cookbook. Is it safe to say David Chang has been an influence on your own style and recipes? Were you excited or intimidated by his presence (or both)?
SS: David Chang definitely influenced the food at Star. It’s crazy that I got cook for the dude. The guy’s a badass!
MN: When it was announced that the challenge was fried chicken, several of your competitors looked happy whereas you looked a bit freaked out. Were you?
SS: Not really freaked out. Just knew that our chicken had to be super on point with David Chang judging us. He does fried chicken dinners at Momofuku.
MN: You prepared “Umami Fried Chicken,” umami of course being one of the five tastes and which is described rounded, rich and savory. What is in umami fried chicken that earns it that name?
SS: I had to find a way to get as much flavor as I could in the short amount of time that we were going to be brining the chicken. So basically what I did was go through the Top Chef pantry and grabbed anything and everything packed with umami: konbu, bonito, pancetta, shiitake, and sundried tomatoes.
MN: You made an inarguably bold move and decided to cook David Chang “Momofuku-style” chicken. Was it a literal translation or an interpretation? What made it Momofuku style?
SS: It was definitely an interpretation of it, but heavily inspired. I just thought that would be hella funny to serve the dude his own recipe. How can he not like it!? We all got a good laugh out of it.
MN: When you watched the show what did you think of Emeril Lagasse’s (wildly positive) reaction to your chicken?
SS: It felt good. Emeril a really respected chef and it’s an honor to cook for him.
MN: Similarly, when you got to see the judges table determine the winning dish, do you think you would have won if you could have served all the Momofuku chicken or do you think Josh was unstoppable regardless?
SS: I may have had a better chance. Nonetheless, Josh’s fried chicken was the bomb, and it was a much-deserved win.
MN: What’s the last thing you cooked in the microwave?
SS: “Fried” parsley garnish.
MN: If you could eat a meal prepared by anyone (living or dead) who would it be and why?
SS: I would to have my mom’s Miki noodles just one more time. I miss her every day.
Again, we are shamelessly rooting for Chef Simeon to win the whole enchilada and even considering getting our own little red knit hats and wearing them 24/7 until he does.
The show airs tonight at 10 p.m. on Bravo. ***fingers crossed***
If there are relevant questions you would like asked of Chef Sheldon for our Episode 13 interview, please send them to Vanessa(@mauinow.com) by midnight on Thursday, Jan. 24 for inclusion.