A few weeks ago, the contestants on Top Chef: Seattle entered into Restaurant Wars. The challenge allows each contestant on the Emmy-Award winning reality competition to present their idea for a restaurant. Two winners' concepts are chosen, and with only 48 hours and the help of their teammates, they have to transform an empty space and kitchen into the restaurant in their vision. The challenge is notorious for sending home promising chefs who can't handle leadership roles, or for getting other chefs in trouble when their front-of-house service is less than stellar. But this season we perked up more than usual when chef Sheldon Simeon was selected to execute his "Modern Filipino" menu at restaurant entitled Urbano.
Simeon is a Hawaiian native whose laid-back demeanor has made him a fan favorite all season. Despite his apparent lackadaisical attitude, Simeon turns out to be a confident and smart Executive Chef throughout the episode, delegating tasks calmly and assertively. It's no surprise, either. The young chef has been on the radar of some of the biggest names in the culinary world. In 2011, he received two James Beard Award nominations and won Food & Wine's "Best New Chef People's Choice" award.
As Urbano develops on-screen, we watch Simeon instruct his teammates on the flavor profiles in Filipino cuisine, noting the characteristic sour notes, favorite proteins and the many hearty Pilipino stews. Simeon then takes classic Pilipino dishes and gives them a modern spin, including a play on balut, made of a poached egg and duck confit atop fois gras mousse, and a deconstructed halo-halo, in which he lined up coconut sorbet, avocado mousse, caramelized banana and shaved coconut on a long, thin plate. The menu was inspired by Simeon's ancestry, specifically his grandfather's homestyle Pilipino cooking. As is the trend for many restauranteurs right now, Simeon took the opportunity to showcase his heritage alongside his culinary training and finesse.
The result ended up being a win for Simeon and his team, but it was also exciting to see Pilipino cuisine showcased in this way on such a huge stage. As the judges asked about each dish, it was clear that they were mostly unfamiliar with Pilipino flavors and dishes, but as they tasted, course-by-course, their oohs and aahs brought the cuisine's appeal and versatility to the forefront.