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Top Chef Sheldon Simeon Serves His Food, His Way

The Hilo native opens Lineage, a restaurant serving bold local fare, on Maui on Oct. 15.


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Chef Sheldon Simeon

Chef Sheldon Simeon is opening his second restaurant, Lineage, in Wailea, Maui on Oct. 15. The menu is filled with food from personal and collective memories.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox

 

“You know why we like one box of chocolates?”

 

Chef Sheldon Simeon is already smiling when he asks me that question. I’m worried about the response.

 

“Because mo’ bettah when you get nuts.”

 

He laughs, whacking the shoulder of his sous chef, Nolan Gonzales, that way local people do. He’s officially cracked himself up. Totally. Unabashedly. And it’s infectious.

 

Simeon is not afraid to be himself. Not on Bravo’s Top Chef. Not during interviews with food writers. Not in the kitchen. He’s a chef who knows exactly who he is and what kind of food he wants to cook.

 

And there’s no better testament to that than his newest restaurant, Lineage, opening on Oct. 15 at The Shops in Wailea on Maui.

 

The restaurant, which is opening as part of a partnership with ABC Stores, held a preview pop-up at ABC-owned Basalt in Waikīkī this week to—let’s be honest—show O‘ahu foodies what we’ll be missing.

 

A spread of pūpū that will be served at Lineage. From left: Kim chee chip with Maebo’s One-Ton chips, chayote and pickled garlic, and boiled peanuts infused with the flavors of oxtail soup.

 

The Hilo native, who still runs the popular Kahului takeout spot Tin Roof, has created a menu for Lineage—more than two years in the making—that’s really special. He takes dishes and flavors anyone who’s grown up here will instantly recognize, then adds something different, something unexpected, a brightness here, a boldness there. He turns these familiar dishes into something magical.

 

Consider his salad of shaved Kula-grown cabbage served with a kalbi vinaigrette, smoked beef fat drippings and a dressing of puréed mac salad. He literally took all the best parts of the bottom of a plate lunch—the bed of shredded cabbage drenched in the meat drippings and remnants of mayo-laden mac salad—and turned them into a filling salad served in a beautiful ceramic bowl. (The dish is aptly named just that: Bottom of a Plate Lunch.)

 

The Bottom of the Plate Lunch salad, with shaved Kula cabbage and a kalbi vinaigrette.

 

Then there’s the amuse-bouche—which he calls an amuse-bump because it’s always served with a cocktail back (a shot-size cocktail)—of pickled daikon with crispy duck skin and duck fat, a play on the pickled daikon that comes with the pūpū platter at Sum Leung Chinese Kitchen in the KTA Puainako Shopping Center in Hilo.

 

“For this restaurant, I just wanted to tell the story of moments and memories for me,” Simeon says. “It’s about my upbringing in Hawaiʻi. You wouldn’t get the amuse-bump unless you ate at that restaurant in Hilo.”

 

At the preview dinner, he served a few of the smaller and larger plates—all meant to be shared—from boiled peanuts infused with the familiar flavors of oxtail soup to cold ginger chicken topped with a green-onion pesto and fermented black beans.

 

The cold ginger chicken is Simeon’s take on the classic Chinese restaurant staple.

 

One of my favorites is the kim chee dip, which sounds simple enough—until you hear how he makes it. Simeon juices house-made kim chee, then folds that into a cream cheese mixture. Then he dehydrates more kim chee and mixes that with garlic and tops the dip. It’s served with Maebo’s One-Ton Chips—an homage to his hometown, where the chips are made.

 

Another local comfort-food favorite is one I’m very familiar with: Flying Saucers. While the original Flying Saucers hailed from Kauaʻi—you’ll find them most often at bon dances—they do turn up on the other islands, particularly at the Maui County Fair. The original hand-held pie is, for lack of a better explanation, a Sloppy Joe sandwich, grilled with a pie iron. The meat mixture is typically a combination of ground beef, onions, ketchup, shoyu and sugar, topped with American cheese. At Lineage, the saucers are stuffed with beef goulash, a bit more elevated than the county fair version and equally as crave-able.

 

“It’s just a piece of nostalgia for me,” Simeon says.

 

Simeon’s version of the Maui County Flying Saucers, filled with beef goulash and American cheese.

 

Classic cone sushi—but with a twist. Inside is salmon-fat rice and ikura.

 

Simeon’s squid lūʻau features charred he‘e (octopus) in caramelized coconut milk.

 

There’s a nod to okazuya, with cone sushi stuffed with salmon-fat rice and pops of ikura; his version of squid lūʻau with taro leaves cooked down in dulce de leche and caramelized coconut milk and garnished with coconut candy; and Ilokano-style adobo turkey tails that, he says, are heavy on the shoyu, black pepper and garlic.

 

On Season 14 of Bravo’s Top Chef, Simeon spent time filming in Charleston, South Carolina, and was introduced to Hoppin’ John, a traditional dish of black-eyed peas and rice. It reminded Simeon of a dish his mom makes, with peas and oxtail. At Lineage, he offers Hoppin’ Juan’s, a similar dish where he braises down scarlet runner beans, which he forages in the forests of Upcountry Maui, with veggies and serves it with garlic rice. The entire dish is dusted in bright-green moringa powder.

 

A gorgeous dish, this is Simeon’s take on Hoppin’ John but with scarlet runner beans and garlic rice. The vibrant green is from moringa powder.

 

The menu is pure fun, from chicharron hit with an adobo spice and served with a surprisingly drinkable chili-pepper water to a vegan katsu curry that swaps chicken with cauliflower and tastes just as good (maybe better) than the traditional plate lunch fare.

 

His favorite dish, though, is the one he’s probably made (and eaten) his entire life. The pork guisantes (pork and peas) comes from the Simeon Family cookbook. It’s a dish his dad and uncle cook all the time—for baby lūʻau, graduation parties, family get-togethers. The pork is simmered in tomato gravy and combined with green peas. That’s it.

 

“It’s very simple and it speaks to my heart,” he says.

 

The signature dish here will likely be the Pork ’n’ Peas, the Simeon Family favorite.

 

But he can’t help but be creative, too. He takes the traditional cascaron (a Filipino mochi doughnut) and pairs it with a smooth shio koji chicken liver pâté and sea salt. It’s not a combination I’ve ever considered, and I wish I had discovered it sooner.

 

The highlight of the dinner was the enormous crispy pata, or pork leg, that arrived on a huge platter filled with fresh herbs and lettuce. The leg is brined overnight with salt, then steamed for four hours. It goes back into the wok to air dry so the skin is extra crispy. Then it’s breaded and cooked in a fryer until golden. It’s good as is, though you can make lettuce wraps with it or use one of the two sauces—a tasty finadene sauce or something called the Braddah Tommy Sauce.

 

Dessert was special, too. He served a toasted rice tea chazuke guri-guri garnished with puffed rice, some salt and a hint of something citrusy. (We guessed lime.)

 

“I just want to cook delicious food and not be pretentious about it,” Simeon says.

 

Chef, you’ve succeeded.

 

Lineage, 3750 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, Maui, (808) 879-8800.

 

The 35th Annual Hale ‘Aina Awards best restaurants event is Sunday, Sept. 30 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort, 2259 Kalākaua Ave. Tickets begin at $150 on hnltix.com.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX

 

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