Simeon readies for ‘Top Chef’ run

Nov. 7, 2012 | 0 Comments

BY JACQUELYN M. CARBERRY / jcarberry@staradvertiser.com

Fans of the Emmy-winning “Top Chef” undoubtedly already know the new season kicks off tonight. Among those who will be watching in anticipation is contestant — and fan — Sheldon Simeon, 30, of Lahaina.

<em>Sheldon Simeon. (Courtesy photo)</em>

Sheldon Simeon. (Courtesy photo)

The Star Noodle executive chef is a graduate of the Maui Culinary Academy and was named a semifinalist this year in the James Beard Foundation Awards’ “Rising Star Chef of the Year” category. Simeon is also executive chef of Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, as well as Aloha Mix Plate.

For Simeon, the third time proved to be the charm in trying out for the series. He and 20 other contestants will compete for a spot in the kitchen during tonight’s season premiere episode. Though other Hawaii-born contestants have appeared on the show, Simeon is the only one who still lives in Hawaii year-round. He has watched every season of “Top Chef” since it debuted.

“What intrigues me most is the credentials of Tom Colicchio,” he said. “He’s not a TV chef, but a well-respected person in the field and who continues to work in the business.”

Colicchio will be joined this year by veteran judge Gail Simmons and guest judges Hugh Acheson and Emeril Lagasse. Padma Lak­shmi hosts.

The decision to try out for the show, which is now in its 10th season, was an easy one for Simeon, who was born and raised on Hawaii island.

“Every season I’ve said to myself, ‘I can do that.’ And now I had the opportunity.”

Simeon spoke highly of his cast mates, all of whom he met for the first time in June when taping began in Seattle.

“Rarely do you get surrounded by people as passionate about food as I am,” he said.

Simeon described his cooking style as fun, playful takes on classic dishes. While he doesn’t feel pressured to represent Hawaii, he is more than proud to reflect Hawaii’s cooking heritage.

“What you see is what you get,” he said. “My style of cooking is from the heart; I’m just a local boy from Hawaii. I enjoy food and challenges, and I’m a perfectionist when it comes to food and plating.”

Simeon said he still gets nervous walking into any kitchen, despite his 12 years in the field. It’s a self-induced pressure to cook well for others.

“It’s nerve-racking,” he said. “Definitely each day you put yourself out there. Food touches every sense and elicits strong memories.”

Another topic that triggers Simeon’s excitement is the employees of the three restaurants he runs.

“I am a cook’s chef,” he declared. “I started off as a dishwasher and eventually became an executive chef. I can relate to other workers. Last night someone was out and I covered dishwashing. I’m still scrubbing dishes, standing alongside of them. I enjoy building up cooks and seeing what their futures bring them.”

As for his television debut, Simeon plans on watching it at home with his wife, Janice, and their three daughters, ages 1, 3, and 6.

His wife helped him make the decision to appear on the show, Simeon said.

“I’m excited to represent Maui, represent the Big Island and represent Hawaii,” he said. “I’m going to be bundled up at my house and just enjoying the show with my family.”

“Top Chef: Seattle” airs at 8 p.m. tonight in Hawaii on Bravo (episodes repeat at 10 p.m. Wednesdays).

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