Island Living: Q&A with Chef Sheldon Simeon

Bravo’s Top Chef Sheldon Simeon acquired his love for cooking from his parents. Simeon’s path led from Maui Culinary Academy to competing in seasons 10 and 14 of Bravo’s hit competition cooking show Top Chef, where he won Fan Favorite both times. In 2016, Simeon opened his restaurant, Tin Roof, where he serves up local dishes in take-out bowls, before opening Lineage, his second restaurant, in the fall of 2018, which focuses on traditional local Hawaii fare. The following year, Lineage was named a James Beard Award semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant.” And then in 2020, Simeon left Lineage to focus on writing his first cookbook, Cook Real Hawai’i, which just came out this spring.

These days, Simeon lives in Maui with his wife, Janice, and their four children—and he chatted with us about local culture, must-try dishes, and his favorite restaurants to recommend to visitors.

How long have you lived in Hawaii?

Born and raised in Hilo, HI. Living on Maui, now.

Describe the different cultures in Hawaii?

Hawai’i is a patchwork quilt, consisting of native Polynesians, generations of plantation workers, paniolo (cowboys) and military, that have all contributed to the state’s unique blend of flavors.

When did the diverse culinary landscape take off in Hawaii? 

When the plantation workers began to arrive on the islands and their cultures began to cross-pollinate. 

Name three meals/drinks that truly embody your island.

1. Hawaiian Sun Passion Orange juice: This flavor immediately takes me back to small-kid times. Keiki (kids) drink this like water. 

2. Komoda Bakery’s stick donuts: This century-old bakery, located in Makawao Town, on the slope of Mount Haleakalã, draws lines of people daily, all to get their hands on their sweet stick donuts and cream puffs.

3. Kohola Brewery’s Talk Story Pale Ale: When we pau hana (finish work) nothing ends today better than a cold beer and some fresh poke. 

When you have visitors come to your island, where do you send them to dine out?

1. Sale Pepe: poached egg pizza and pickled grape martini

2. Havens: breakfast burger and fried noodle

3. Papa’aina: Deep fried French toast and breakfast ramen

4. My Thai: Khao soi and mom’s specialty sausage

5. Tin Roof (my restaurant): order one of everything!

What dishes are cooked for special occasions?
Special occasions in Hawaii mean Thanksgiving-level cooking, with all of the islands favorites.

Where should people stay in Maui? What should they do?

Maui has plenty of good resorts, but remember to actually leave your hotel property. See all of the beauty Maui has to offer but, most importantly, please remember to be respectful of this precious land.