Chef on a Hot Tin Roof

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Tin Roof Pork bowl
The mainstay of Tin Roof’s menu is its variety of kau kau tins (normally served in a takeout container). Shown here: pork belly with six-minute egg, roasted garlic cloves, patis (fish sauce) vinaigrette, and what Chef Sheldon jokingly calls “the other vegetable”—rice.

That’s such a hot idea, I’ve brought my own family to Tin Roof today for lunch. As I watch the bowls of deliciousness coming off the line, I see Sheldon Simeon’s art: food that is simple, yet complex in flavor; approachable, and grounded in Hawai‘i’s multicultural cuisine. Chris orders the heads-on Kaua‘i garlic “scrimps” (the menu’s slang for shrimp) over white rice with salted cabbage banchan. He digs in with chopsticks and gives the thumbs up.

Tori sprinkles her “dime bag” of magic—a blend of sesame seeds, sea salt, nori, and crushed instant ramen—over her bowl of wokked dry mein (noodles) for an extra bump of flavor and texture. A cup of hot, umami broth to sip and dip the noodles into is served on the side. She devours it with pleasure. I bite into the meaty pork belly garnished with fresh Maui tomato and onion, then nibble on the perfectly cooked six-minute boiled egg that I’ve stirred into my brown rice with banana sauce. The richness of the roasted pork balances with the other ingredients. This is home cooking at its finest.

Like Sheldon, Janice Simeon grew up in a close-knit Filipino family—hers in the bustling town of Lahaina. Both parents worked full-time, but at family gatherings that included grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, home cooking was a recurring theme.

The Maui girl and the Big Island boy met by chance half an ocean and a whole continent away, when both were working in Orlando, Florida, at Walt Disney World. Back in Hawai‘i, the distance felt greater: Janice returned to Maui, and Sheldon enrolled in Leeward Community College’s culinary program on O‘ahu. A year later, they reunited on Maui. Sheldon completed his last two semesters at Maui Culinary Academy, got his first job in the industry as prep cook at Aloha Mixed Plate . . . and in 2013 gained national fame as a finalist on Bravo Channel’s Top Chef.

Tin Roof has been a different kind of challenge.

Janice says, “I grew up running through the frames of homes my family members were building, so understanding construction came almost naturally for me. Sheldon grew up surrounded by cooking; he could not understand construction. I learned to be more patient with him during the renovations.

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