Jeffrey Valdez, 25, Tin Roof Maui, Kahului
What inspired your career?
My grandma lived with us when I was growing up and she cooked when my mom went to work at night. We’d eat simple dishes like salmon and rice, or chicken papaya soup. Eating and preparing traditional food is definitely something I learned from her.
Which chefs do you most admire?
One of my first jobs was working for Sodexo [a food-services company headquartered in France] while I was going to Maui Culinary Academy [now UH–Maui College Culinary Arts Program]. Working under managing chef Kristen Dougherty, I learned about Korean food preparation, like how to make kimchee, and catering setups. Then I took a job with Chef Sheldon Simeon at his first restaurant, MiGRANT, and I really connected with working on the line. I knew it was where I wanted to be. I continue to work with and learn with Sheldon at [his new restaurant], Tin Roof. One thing that stays true for me is something that Sheldon once told me, “Cook with your heart, not with your ego. The food tastes better this way, and your cultural roots, cooking style and flavors will ring true.”
Was there a defining moment that made you realize you weren’t meant to be a career line cook?
I was going to school and working at the same time. The thing is, at MiGRANT, I connected with the food and ingredients in a cultural way, because I grew up eating this food that we were preparing. I knew that if I worked hard, I could learn and eventually share what I’ve learned with other upcoming cooks. I think the defining moment came when I realized that I’m a working chef and will continue to grow and learn and teach. That’s what chefs do.
How do you balance work and personal time?
I veg out in front of the TV with Anthony Bourdain’s Mind of a Chef. And I like to travel. Traveling recently to Charleston for the food-and-wine festival, I was inspired by the southern foods and how it was still being prepared the traditional way. This continuity is important. Also, my grandma just came back from nine months in the Philippines and it’s good to spend time with her, talking and eating her food.
What cookbook would you recommend to an aspiring young chef?
Sean Brock’s new book called Heritage. It has a huge pantry list with many suggested ingredients you can have on hand to prepare different dishes. It’s inspiring, and having gone to Charleston, I see the importance of a huge pantry. One thing I’d add to the list is patis [fish sauce].
Chef Jeffrey Valdez stands surrounded by his creations. Top left: Pork belly with garlic and pork dashi broth, sambal schmaltz, kizami nori, kamaboko, sesame seeds, bean sprouts, six-minute egg, scallions and noodles; Bottom left: Local shortbill spearfish infused with grapefruit, granola tako senbei, pesto, beets, bonito flakes, rice, and baba ganoush; Top right: Soup + Rice: pan-roasted cobia, sinigang jook, scallion ginger sauce, Thai basil; Bottom right: Sautéed hebi with mitmita sour cream, braised beets, pea shoots, red onions, rice crackers and rice.
WEB EXCLUSIVE: Maui chefs don’t just create delectable meals; they’re inspiring the next generation of chefs. For twelve weeks, some of the island’s top culinary professionals did some hands-on mentoring with students as part of the American Heart Association’s Teens Cook with Heart. Get the web-exclusive story, plus videos and a recipe for whole-wheat pancakes made by some cute little kids, at MauiMagazine.net/AHA-Teens.