Chef Simeon Demos Taro in New & Unusual Ways
By Susan Halas
Gourmet taro anyone?
On Monday night Chef Sheldon Simeon proved that the humble staple of the Hawaiian diet could go uptown with ease.
Simeon is the executive chef at Star Noodle in Lahaina and Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie in Olowalu. He was the second of six Maui chefs participating Grown on Maui, monthly cooking demonstrations at Whole Foods Market. The free events, sponsored by the Maui County Farm Bureau and the County Office of Economic Development, pair local chefs with local produce. The public is invited to watch and taste as humble and sometimes unfamiliar ingredients turn into delicious edibles.
Dressing, Appetizers and Stew Using Poi
Chef Simeon demonstrated a variety new ways to use taro and poi. He showed a small but appreciative audience how to make a poi vinaigrette dressing and then incorporate it into a lomi salmon-kalua pork pupu and an Italian style antipasto. He also used taro and poi in a hearty beef stew.
The vinaigrette dressing used three day old sour poi as a base. The chef blended it with tomato water, olive oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, fresh Maui grown tarragon and Hawaiian chili pepper. The result was a creamy poi based salad dressing with a spicy kick.
Taking a broad thin taro chip that looked like a crispy small tortilla, he squirt the chip with the poi dressing, added lomi salmon and kalua pork, then garnished it with a crispy member of the limu family known as “sea asparagus.” The combo was delicious, definitely a new take on some old favorites.
For the antipasto he combined flavorful local tomatoes from Olowalu Farms, prosciutto ham and thin salami studded with peppercorns. To these ingredients he added chunks of mozzarella cheese and dressed the colorful mixture with the poi vinaigrette.
Simeon, born and raised on the Big Island, said his third dish, a hearty beef stew, was inspired by his Hilo roots. For this demonstration he used poi to thicken the gravy. Diced chunks of steamed taro, edamame (soybeans), Maui onions and carrots gave the traditional favorite additional texture and flavor.
He reminded the audience to cook the taro “all the way through or risk the unpleasant “itchy throat” that comes from eating taro that is not fully cooked.
Also on hand to lend moral support were Michael Moore, partner at Old Lahaina Luau, the company that owns the restaurants where Simeon works. Moore said Simeon had started as a dishwasher and prep station worker and risen through the ranks to executive chef.
Representing the farming side was Robert “Bobby” Pahia of Hoaloha Farms, a supplier to the restaurants. The OLL group has acreage in Wailuku, Waikapu and sources their kitchens with many locally grown ingredients from farms throughout Maui.
“It Was All Good”
Among those sitting in the front row was Edwina Snyder, a former principal of St. Anthony Schools in Wailuku. Like the others in the audience she tasted a generous serving of each of the dishes. Her response was enthusiastic: “It was all good, she said. “I was so impressed with this young and enthusiastic chef.”
Indeed Simeon has solid credentials: He was a semi-finalist in the prestigious James Beard Award for “Rising Star Chef of the Year.” In 2011 he was named “Chef of the Year” by Maui No Ka Oi Magazine. This is a special honor because the voting was done by fellow Maui Chefs.
There are four more chefs to come in the Maui Grown series. Dates are the final Monday of the month beginning at 5:30 p.m. (except where noted).
More Demonstrations Coming Up
Joey Macadangdang, Roy’s Restaurant, March 26;
James Simpliciano, April 30;
Mark McDowell, May 21 (3rd Monday)
Brandon Shim, June 25.
All of the demonstrations take place at Whole Foods at the Maui Mall and run from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
For more information visit www.mauicountyfarmbureau.org