Story by Eliza Escano
Photos By Mieko Hoffman
Rooted in authentic regional Filipino cuisine
Chef Sheldon Simeon’s gratitude cup is overflowing. Since finishing Top Chef Season 10 as a top-three finalist and fan favorite, the talented toque has partnered with chef and restaurateur Mark Ellman to open Migrant restaurant in Wailea. The awards came not too far behind, with Simeon most recently securing Food and Wine magazine’s “The People’s Best New Chef Award” in the Northwest and Pacific Division.
Accolades aside, it’s Simeon’s humble demeanor and smile that endear him to both peers and fans. One gets the idea that his successes are merely byproducts of what the two-time James Beard finalist celebrates most: family and the Filipino-Hawaiian culture that raised him.
On Maui, where Simeon and his wife Janice raise their four children, Thanksgiving resembles those of the chef’s younger days. Simeon’s dishes, which are replicated from his father’s recipes, are a delectable and honest study on authentic regional Filipino cuisine, specifically Ilocano.
At a Simeon Thanksgiving, there will be a lot of guts, and it will be glorious. Tripe is stewed with tomatoes, reminiscent of Italian Trippa. Most innards and cartilage are boiled down to a softer texture and flavored liberally with shoyu (soy sauce), vinegar and the essence of bay leaves or a combination thereof. The dishes tell a poignant history of hard-working folks who turned parts that would otherwise be discarded into something comforting and tasty. When one of his uncles puts a whole plate of thinly sliced, vinegary cow skin aside to take home, Simeon considers it the most meaningful approval. “That’s the best feeling,” he said. “I would take that over anything.”
Other less “gutsy” fare is still quintessentially Filipino. Ensaladang katuday is a lovely salad of white flower buds, blanched and mixed with cubed tomatoes and patis (fish sauce). Sweet tocino is smoked pork belly cooked with pohole (fern) shoots. Balatong is a thick stew made with boiled green monggo (mung beans). Simeon adds crispy-skinned lechon kawali (deep-fried pork belly) from Lahaina’s Ilocandia grocery store, bagoong (shrimp paste) and ali‘i mushrooms. The delicious soup is finished with marunggay (moringa) leaves, which the Simeon girls picked from their yard and cleaned.
Warm and melty blueberry mocha, almond cheesecake and bibingka, a Filipino holiday sticky rice pudding, marvelously conclude the extraordinary feast. And ever true to tradition, Simeon picks up an ‘ukulele to wind down a splendiferous evening of gratitude with family and friends.