Sheldon Simeon answers your burning questions from season 14
If you’ve been following along with season 14 of Top Chef, you’ve seen the high-intensity fights (we’re looking at you John Tesar and Katsuji Tanabe) and challenges that are more stressful than ever (like staying up for 24 hours to roast a pig!). But throughout it all there was one constant that was always there to mellow us out (and give us a laugh), chef Sheldon Simeon.
The season 10 alum from Maui, Hawaii brought his Filipino roots to his cooking and light-hearted ways to every situation. And to celebrate tonight’s episode (it’s down to the final three!) Simeon chatted with People Food to answer every burning question you’ve had all season long.
Simeon’s back injury was even worse than what we saw on TV.
Right before the grueling overnight barbecue challenge, an old back injury flared up and he had to be taken to the hospital. “I really thought there was a 50/50 chance I was going to call it quits. I was hurting really badly. I ate 16 Ibuprofens that day. I didn’t tell anyone. I was literally crying in the bathroom and sucking it up for the camera and then I had to tell them I needed something else. I needed a needle in my back if I wanted to continue. Then [after going to the hospital] I felt like Mark McGwire, like they shot me up or something. Those two doctors in Charleston were a blessing. They healed me up and I went on with that challenge.”
He got the call to return to the show 3 days before his restaurant, Tin Roof Maui, opened.
“I didn’t even ask permission from my wife when [Top Chef] called,” he says. “It was three days before the opening of my restaurant. We opened up and a month after we opened I left for the show.” But redeeming himself from season 10 was something that’s been on his mind for years. “I made it all the way to the finale and I cooked something that wasn’t my style, I wanted to show off and try to show that I’m not just this guy from Hawaii that does only one style of food and then I tried to do something that I’m not, and it really stuck with me.”
He’s not surprised the returning veterans dominated this season.
“We knew that the game is long, and that it’s a marathon, so trying to guess what’s happening or be ready for the next challenge [won’t work], you just have to go with the game.”
In his down-time between challenges, he watched The Notebook.
The divide between the newcomers and returning cheftestants also ran through the house, because newbies would strategize over challenges, while vets would use the time to “relax and chill.” Or, in Simeon’s case, he says he would watch The Notebook.
The fellow cheftestant he still keeps in touch with may surprise you.
“Old man John Tesar has been a friend since Seattle. I gravitated towards him because he was always awkward; I liked that. Everyone always deems him as some crazy old man, but I got to see the flip side of things and really got to know him and he’s somebody who cares about his work and he’s really passionate about his job and I try to mellow him out. He’s always so riled up, that guy.”
He also keeps in touch with other cheftestants via group text, and yes, they discuss each new episode as they air. “Thursday mornings and Friday mornings are ridiculous! The phone is going crazy.”
The only person he was nervous to compete against was Brooke Williamson.
From the start, he says Brooke was the only person he considered to be his competition. “We called each other up instantly once we got the call. We’ve been really, really good friends ever since Seattle and we decided to take another stab at it.” As for everyone else, they didn’t phase him. “It was my own game. I was just going to cook my food no matter what, whatever the outcome was. You try to game plan and make a strategy and you have to just play the game against yourself. That’s it.”
His secret ingredient this season was making food that represented his Hawaiian and Filipino cutlures.
He infamously won episode 11’s James Beard House challenge by cooking Carolina Gold rice chow fun with hibachi pork belly, a dish he says encompasses what Hawaii is. “It was like a joke to myself, all season, that I cooked food that I would be cooking at my grandparent’s house and I was like, ‘let’s just put it out there’ and it worked all season. It felt good that I got to cook my food and that everyone liked it. It showed that it doesn’t need to be crazy. Food is a connection and when you put your feelings into it, people taste it. It’s not about how you swipe or you put a dot or garnish a plate.”
He’s done with being a cheftestant for good.
“I don’t think I would do another one again. I’ll come back as a judge or something.”
And no, he couldn’t believe no one else recognized their partner’s voices either.
During a quick fire challenge in episode 11 he was the only chef to instantly recognize the disguised voice of his secret sous-chef, which happened to be his wife. “I don’t get that. That’s the life of a husband, right? You listen and say ‘yes, yes, yes.'”