The Chef So Nice We Featured Him Twice
Sheldon Simeon and the Hawai'i you don't know
"I just want to continue to tell the story of Hawai'i. Some people do it through song; some people do it through dance, the hula; I can't do either of those, I can't surf. My way of participating and celebrating our community and traditions is through my food."
On today’s episode of Food with Mark Bittman, I talked with Sheldon Simeon, probably Hawai’i’s best known chef, and deservedly.
Months back, my lovable daughter Kate connected with Simeon for the Bittman Project. She was just as enamored of him as everyone else, and suggested we have him on the podcast, too. I’m glad to say we did.
Simeon, who was born and raised in Hawai’i, has been cooking since he was a kid. He learned to butcher chickens in the first grade, he had a stint at Pizza Hut, and he went on to be a Top Chef finalist twice — and a fan favorite. Plus, he just got nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific. His passion for his home, his cooking, for his life, is infectious. And his loyalty to Hawai’i’s food, customs, and history is beyond admirable — it’s really fun, too. I’m sure you’re gonna like this.
The recipe featured in the episode — Simeon’s Maui Kale Salad with Sweet Onion Dressing, which is beloved by my other daughter — is below. Please listen, subscribe, and review! And we’d love to hear your food-related questions, as we’d like to start doing live Q&A soon: Email us at email@example.com.
Thank you, as always. — Mark
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Maui Kale Salad with Sweet Onion Dressing
Serves 4 to 6
Here’s how this salad came together. A few days before we opened Tin Roof, we had the menu 90 percent set. Mochiko chicken, pork belly, chop steak—the essentials all locked in. Then somebody in the kitchen pointed out that we had no salad (other than mac salad) on the menu. Maybe we needed something with actual greens in it?
Cue the Top Chef quickfire music. Within 30 minutes we had pulled together a salad based on what was in our pantry and what I picked up from the Costco down the street. The dressing was a crowd-pleasing sweet onion recipe that we’d used at Old Lahaina Luau. We took roasted peanuts and coated them with sweet-spicy kochujang and garlic salt. We added crushed potato chips for crunch and more salt, dried cranberries for chew and sweetness. We used kale and cabbage because we figured they would taste better after sitting around in the dressing for a while; eventually we figured out that if you lomi (massage) the leaves with a little salt it makes them even more tender. It turned out to be a very good salad: easy but interesting enough to hold your attention, robust but balanced. — Sheldon Simeon
2 large bunches kale, rinsed and roughly chopped (remove any midribs and stems if they’re too tough)
1/2 medium head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 cup Sweet Onion Dressing (recipe follows)
1 cup crushed potato chips (Maui onion flavor preferred)
3/4 cup roughly chopped Kim Chee Peanuts (recipe follows)
In a large bowl, combine the kale, cabbage, cranberries, and sweet onion dressing. Toss to coat and mix thoroughly, using your hands if desired. Transfer to the fridge and let chill for at least 15 minutes.
When ready to serve, add the potato chips and peanuts and toss to combine. Season with a pinch of salt, if needed.
Sweet Onion Dressing
Makes about 2 cups
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 medium sweet onion, quartered
2 teaspoons celery salt
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup neutral oil
In a blender, combine the vinegar, sugar, onion, celery salt, mustard, and black pepper and process until smooth. With the blender on its lowest speed, gradually add the oil in a steady stream until the dressing is thickened. Transfer to a jar or sealable container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Kim Chee Peanuts
Makes about 2 cups
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon neutral oil
1 tablespoon kochujang (Korean chili paste)
1/2 teaspoon kochugaru (Korean chili flakes)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 cups raw peanuts
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
In a large saucepan, stir together the sugar, oil, and 1 teaspoon water over medium heat. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove it from the heat and stir in the kochujang, kochugaru, and garlic salt. Add the nuts, stirring to coat evenly.
Spread the nuts out in the baking pan. Bake until the nuts are toasted and glossy, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once. Break the mixture apart. Cover and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
Recipes reprinted with permission from Cook Real Hawai’i by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder, copyright © 2021. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
My daughter who lives in Honolulu just sent me Cook Real Hawaii by Sheldon Simeon. It’s a great read and filled with enticing recipes. I can’t wait to try some. She at at Tin Roof, Sheldon’s Maui restaurant, and said it was the best saimin she’d ever tasted.
Wow, I'm very excited to get this salad into my mouth! The combinations of textures and flavors of all 3 components sound perfect. Thank you for this recipe and interview - in my next life I hope to be born into a generous community like the one Sheldon grew up in. I wish him all the best.