'Top Chef' exit interview: Eliminated chef talks about evolution and getting 'back to cooking'
SPOILER ALERT: Don’t keep reading unless you want to know who was eliminated from Top Chef last night.
Like the great Carla Hall seasons before him, chef Sheldon Simeon tripped up heading into the Top Chef finale by straying outside of his culinary comfort zone with a trio of dishes including spot prawns, quail, and white chocolate mousse — to the judges’ confusion and displeasure. EW checked in with Sheldon about his road to the “technically top three” and what he really thought of his three-course meal. (Those prawns looked good!)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, I’m curious to hear your perspective on the dishes you put out last night, because there was a lot of talk about the “Sheldon style” of cooking with this episode — the judges clearly felt like it was something you strayed from.
Going into the finale, I wanted to showcase how much I’ve grown from this show. As I was watching the whole season I felt that I was the guy from Hawaii that cooks Asian food. So I wanted to show that as a chef I can grill, and going into the finale I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do, and that’s kind of how I created my menu. I thought my first course was very much me, it was the style of food I like to cook. And maybe it was a little not as bold as my past dishes, but I think the spot prawns they were sweet and I didn’t want to overpower that with some sauce or a different component. So I really wanted to showcase the spot prawns. I guess I got faulted for not having enough flavor, but I think with the dish, I was happy with it. For the second dish, I wanted to really go outside of the box and bring a surprise element to the judges and I guess they didn’t get that. I thought the dish was solid, but hey, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. And for my dessert, it was kind of a second-thought on that and the three hours was mostly spent on my first two courses and the third course, I felt those flavors were interesting but I just didn’t have enough time to execute it the way that I wanted to.
So you thought the menu really reflected your evolution throughout the season — not that this was something completely new?
Correct. As chefs you need to continue to evolve and continue to blossom and just at that moment that’s what my heart felt and that’s what I put on the plate. And I’ve learned from the experience that I’m at the stage in my career that I need to figure out a style that everyone’s going to recognize me at. It’s a big learning experience.
Watching from my couch, Tom was really sort of driving you guys at some points in his kitchen. What was it like on the other end?
Chef Tom was amazing — barking out orders, tickets were coming in and I stopped for a second, I put all my utensils down and I just laughed, like, “What am I doing in the middle of Craft kitchen getting expedited by Chef Tom?” it was a dream come true. It was such a humbling experience right at that moment. I couldn’t have asked for a better finale — well, I could have asked for winning. But something like that, yeah, it was fun to have Chef Tom on the other side.
Was there anything you would have done differently with those three dishes?
I wish I was a little bit more focused and I think if I tasted more and I could apply more flavor to the aspects. But I don’t have any regrets.
You touched on this a bit in the episode, but your background is different from some of the other chefs, like Brooke, who maybe come from experiences with more high-end restaurants. Do you feel like that set you apart from other contestants?
Yeah, you know I grew up doing dishes and what I’ve learned has been very self-taught or just what I see in the magazines and living in Hawaii is such a different culture and I’m glad I got to showcase that. I think that set me apart from everyone else and I’m just glad that for everyone across America, I got a chance to showcase that.
Who are you rooting for in the finale?
I don’t know. Those girls are amazing, I consider those girls as my sisters now and anybody can take it. It’s going to be an amazing effort though, it’s going to be really, really entertaining and fun to watch.
What’s next for you now?
What’s next? Get back to cooking. We got the chance to sit down with the past winners and talk about what they’re doing and ask them advice and each one said, “Get back to cooking. If you don’t forget that what put you on this show was your food and your cooking and that’s what you love to do, you’ll be alright. Once you lose sight of that then you’ll be going down the wrong path.” That’s what I’m going to be doing, I’ll be focused on my cooking, be focused on my craft. I’ll get back to Star Noodle and there are definitely some huge, huge opportunities waiting in the wings. You’ll definitely see a restaurant out of me, hopefully sooner than later. I’m just going to get back to cooking. That’s it.