Tonight’s the night, the finale of Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
And, more importantly, your last chance to vote for local boy chef Sheldon Simeon for #FanFavorite. (Tweet #ChefSheldon for the next couple of hours!)
Simeon — who chefs at two my two favorite Maui restaurants, Star Noodle and Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop — made it to the Final Four of the hit Bravo reality show and garnered fans around the country with his fresh approach to Asian-style cooking, his laid-back attitude and, of course, saying things like, “That chicken was frickin’ good!”
Love the guy!
So I chatted with Hawaii’s “cheftestant” today to get the lowdown on tonight’s finale and what he’ll be doing in the near future.
CT: So where are you right now? Still on Oahu?”
SS: No, I’m back on Maui. Actually, I’m working at Star Noodle. Back to the grind already!
SS: (laughs) It was. At one point, I just stopped in the middle of service. There were tickets coming in, Tom’s yelling, cameras were in my face. But I had to stop. It was so surreal. I was cooking my ass off. It was just so unreal. At that moment, I realized I was blessed.
CT: You cooked for some world-renowed chefs including David Chang and Katsuya Uechi. Who intimidated you the most?
SS: Actually, it was Restaurant Wars that intimidated me, to tell you the truth. Not because of the judges, but because I was cooking something that was kinda new, but something I really believed in. The whole time I was putting myself out there. It was fun.
CT: The gamble (to cook Filipino food) paid off. Your team won. Was that also your proudest moment then?
SS: Oh, definitely. In fact, that was the proudest moment of my whole career. I put Filipino food out there and everyone received it well and it kinda made me realize the type of cooking I want to do. This was something I could actually spend the rest of my career doing.
CT: Has your participation on ‘Top Chef’ changed your career direction?
SS: Yeah, for sure. The next step is looking for something on my own. I’ll continue with Star Noodle, though, because they gave me so many opportunities and they’ve done amazing things for me.
CT: You planning to move away? I hope not!
SS: There’s just tons of opportunities right now up on the Mainland and even here. I’d like to raise my children here, but in the end, it’s whatever’s best for my girls, my wife and my family.
CT: I know you’re a fan of the show. Does it trip you out that you’re now part of the show’s legacy? I mean, you’re one of those chefs you watched!
SS: Frick, a year ago, when Paul (Qui, Season 9 champion) won, I went to Uchiko (in Texas) and I was the guy who was starstruck. I was, like, ‘Hey, Paul, how’s it going, I love your food, your sashimi is sooooo fresh.’ (laughs) I was THAT guy! Now we’re constantly talking on Twitter and on the phone. I have contacts with Emeril (Lagasse) and Tom (Colicchio). In a blink of an eye! It’s crazy!
CT: As a viewer, you don’t really know what’s going on. Was there anything that totally shocked you, something you didn’t expect, once you became a cheftestant?
SS: It’s long days on the set, man. It’s brutal. It’s back to back to back to back. We’re doing 16- to 18-hour days, average. Some days we were doing 22-hour days. It’s crazy. You’re out there, you’re so vulnerable at that moment. You don’t know what to come up with, you have to go with your first instinct. It’s definitely the most physically and mentally grueling thing I’ve ever done.
CT: So the finale tonight… can you tell us anything?
SS: Tonight I’m going to support… I can’t say! But I’ll be working (at Star Noodle). I’m actually cooking on the line tonight. We’re doing an ahi belly … I’m going to kill it.
CT: What’s the best advice you got from other cheftestants?
SS: Every single one of them gave me advice for life after ‘Top Chef’ and it was this: don’t ever stop cooking. Don’t ever forget what brought you to ‘Top Chef’ and your newfound fame. It’s the food. Don’t forget that.
Watch the “Top Chef” finale on Bravo at 8 p.m. tonight.