"Sheldon, please pack your knives and go!" These words, emphatically spoken by "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi, were not what he wanted to hear.
But Wednesday night, Maui's own Sheldon Simeon handled it with poise, humility and grace when he got axed from part one of the two-part season finale of Bravo Channel's "Top Chef," the top-rated food show on cable television.
"It was fun. It was a hell of a ride," Simeon said Thursday in a conference call from Honolulu. "Top Chef "staffers in Los Angles listened in to the interview so he wouldn't divulge anything about next week's finale. "I experienced so many things. It's been awesome."
Maui chef Sheldon Simeon, who runs Star Noodle in Lahaina and Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop in Olowalu, bowed out of Bravo Channel’s “Top Chef” show on Wednesday.
Bravo Channel photo
Maui chef Sheldon Simeon (center in red hat), chef Brooke Williamson (left of Simeon) of Los Angeles and chef Kristen Kish (left of Williamson) of Boston competed for two spots in next week’s season finale of Bravo Channel’s “Top Chef.” Unfortunately, the Maui chef was eliminated in Wednesday’s show. Also shown in the photo are (from left) chefs Micah Fields, Elizabeth Binder, Kish, Williamson, Simeon, Josie Smith-Malave, Stefan Richter and Joshua Valentine.
Bravo Channel photo
After final tapings at head judge Tom Colicchio's acclaimed Craft restaurant in Los Angeles in recent weeks, Simeon returned to Maui, where he runs the kitchens of award-winning Star Noodle in Lahaina and Leoda's Kitchen & Pie Shop in Olowalu.
"I came back to Maui, but then I flew to Honolulu Wednesday night to hang with friends at the Vintage Cave. There's a special dinner there. I'll be hanging in the kitchen with Blane Wetzel of Willows in Washington state. I knew last night's episode would be heavy. So I thought I'd get away, forget about it all, and start a new chapter in my life."
But nobody on Maui is forgetting how close he came to winning it all.
On Wednesday night's episode, cheftestant Kristen Kish of Boston, who had been cut from a previous episode and aced her way through the "Last Chance Kitchen" online program, returned to beat out Simeon. The other remaining chef is Brooke Williamson of Los Angeles.
But no matter. The 10th season of "Top Chef" had many memorable moments for Simeon, who finished third.
"I can't pick and choose a favorite moment," said the Hilo native. "There were so many special ones. Cooking at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, eating oysters plucked from the ocean in Samish Bay. That was amazing. Taking the helicopter ride to a glacier in Alaska and riding the dog sled and being in all of that snow. I feel so blessed."
Always wearing a distinctive red cap, Simeon said he didn't realize he'd be setting trends on Maui.
"I knew I wanted to be recognizable - so that's how the red hat came about. I wore it throughout the season," he said.
Chef instructor Jake Belmonte, who teaches at Maui Culinary Academy at the University of Hawaii Maui College where Simeon finished his studies, is one of those influenced by the red hat.
"We had a Sheldon 'Top Chef' night Wednesday at my house," he said. "My kids made their own red paper caps, fashioned after all of the red caps other people were seen wearing in photos on Sheldon's Facebook page.
"Sheldon. He's my boy," Belmonte said "He took it all the way to the finale. He represented the island well with his fabulous dishes and his humble personality. Remember when he won the Fil-Am Heritage Festival contest at the Maui Mall?"
Simeon took that prize with his gourmet presentation and tastes of foods from his Filipino heritage.
In fact, he received the most accolades in the "Top Chef" Restaurant Wars, in which he created a Filipino menu for a restaurant he named after his grandfather, Urbano. He gave the name a little twist and called it URBANo.
"Those dishes really showcased who I am as a chef and my Filipino heritage, and it's shined a light on the path I want to take," he said. "Throughout the season, I was the guy from Hawaii who cooked Asian food. When I took time off from Alaska before the finale, I decided I wanted to show the judges I had grown. So on part one of the finale, I cooked quail. At the moment that's what my heart felt. That's what came out on the plate. But you never know what the judges want."
Quail, they didn't want from Sheldon. They wanted the old Sheldon back. Where did Sheldon go, they asked each other. Aside from Lakshmi and Colicchio, these judges included Emeril Lagasse and Hugh Acheson. They were joined by John Besh and Martin Yan at the featured dinner.
"The message was, 'just continue to be yourself.' Don't try to be something that you're not. Am I going to continue to push the envelope? Push myself? Yes, I am. I've just got to remember my past and my roots," Simeon said.
In Wednesday's episode, Maui shined in the national spotlight with video of West Maui beaches and the ocean beyond.
"It was such an honor to represent Maui and my family," he said. "It portrayed just how we live. We love to hang on the beach and barbecue."
Maui Culinary Academy student Marc-Andre Pourny has been following the 10th season of "Top Chef" from day one.
"Sheldon's a part of the Maui Culinary Academy family," he said. "It was so exciting to see a man from Hilo, who works right in Lahaina, on 'Top Chef!' If he's doing it, then any one of us from the academy can. To see him in Alaska, where I'm from, fishing for salmon and making sourdough bread, was just awesome. To me, he's a winner, no matter what the result."
Part two of "Top Chef" finale will be televised at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Bravo cable Channels 40 and 560.
* Carla Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.