Hawaii-born chef Sheldon Simeon tells us how history and a fusion of different cultures led to modern Hawaiian cuisine.

How do you think Hawaii’s history has influenced its food story?

“The living, breathing food culture of Hawaii today is a direct product of its past.

“Each group of arrivals to the island brought with them plants, animals, ingredients and flavours, incorporating them into what was already there.

“These include Polynesians, plantation workers, ranchers, military and tourists.

‘If you remember to take care of the land, the land will take care of you.’

“Although very stripped down from how we recognise it today, poke [diced raw fish] originally comes from the Polynesians.

“The plantation era brought about a massive blending of cultures amongst all of Hawaii’s new migrant works.

“There are Japanese influences, Chinese cooking techniques, and dynamic Korean, Portuguese and Filipino flavours.

“It would be very difficult to sum this blending up with one dish. The post-statehood era [Hawaii became a US state in 1959] kick-started the commercialisation of Hawaii, selling mai tais and coconut shrimp to visitors.”

Growing up, what was your favourite traditional food and why?

“Oxtail soup. There’s something about a long drawn out bone stock with perfectly cooked white rice that soothes the soul.”

Hawaiian tuna poke bowl with seaweed, avocado, red cabbage, radish and black sesame seeds

What dishes are typically Hawaiian and which ones (that the rest of the world thinks are Hawaiian) aren’t?

“Traditional Hawaiian food consisted of kalua pork [cooked in an underground oven], lawalu fish [fish cooked in leaves], huli huli chicken [barbecued chicken basted in a sweet sauce] and their main starch poi [made from the root of the taro or ‘kalo’ plant].

“Dishes people often mistake for being Hawaiian are things like teriyaki chicken and Hawaiian pizza. Putting pineapple on something doesn’t make it Hawaiian.”

What ingredients do you always have at home?

“Shoyu (soy sauce), sesame oil, oyster sauce, patis (fish sauce), ti leaves, pa’aki (sea salt) and Hawaiian chilli pepper water.”

What is your most popular dish?

“Mochiko chicken [Hawaiian fried chicken] is both the top selling dish at my restaurant, Tin Roof Maui, and a fan favourite dish from my book.”

Loco moco: white rice topped with hamburger, fried egg and gravy

What Hawaiian traditions influence your cooking?

“Aloha aina, malama aina. [This means] ‘If you remember to take care of the land, the land will take care of you.’”

If you were to entertain guests who were new to Hawaiian food, what would you cook for them and why?

“I like to start people with some poke, loco moco [white rice, topped with a hamburger, a fried egg and gravy], and kalbi ribs. It takes us through three important time periods in Hawaiian food culture.”

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