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Thanks, Sheldon

You didn’t win Top Chef, but you made Hawaii proud — not just because of your cooking

Posted February 21, 2013 by Mari Taketa

Dear Sheldon,

I wish you’d won. I know many Top Chef fans in Hawaii who feel the same way, and more beyond these shores.

From the beginning of season 10 you brought the show home, flashing the shaka with a big smile. “Eh Hawaii, howzit.” Not your wife, your kids or your grandfather up in heaven, but Hawaii. I don’t know how many times I repeated that line with your slouching shaka in the days afterward. “Hawaii’s on Top Chef,” I told people. “And he’s so real.”

I don’t know who asked you to represent Hawaii, or if anybody did. You’re a two-time James Beard semifinalist, a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef nominee, a Rising Star. And you run the kitchen at Star Noodle, one of Maui’s hottest restaurants.

But I appreciated it. Not just your repeated menehune references or your better-than-decent ukulele. I appreciated that you were classy throughout, when people were ripping into each other and throwing competitors under the bus. You kept quiet. I appreciated that you honored your grandfather when you named your Restaurant Wars pop-up after him, the same way you honored your father by naming him as your mentor at the awards. Very cool.

Your shining moment? Winning Restaurant Wars by making the judges fall in love with upscale, contemporary balut and adobo. Your most exuberant? Confiding to Chrissy, a fellow Filipino contestant, “I’m making sinigang!” and Chrissy popping her eyes and hissing back, “No way!” You woke the judges up with that bright, sour soup, and even Hugh Acheson, the snarky one, was stunned to love it.

In the end last night, part one of the season finale, it came down to you, Brooke and Kristen, a solid and deserving lineup, and you went home for a quail that didn’t sing. Your quail was the result of a month staging at Vintage Cave to elevate your repertoire and technique, a gamble you engineered to push yourself out of your comfort zone of bold local and Filipino flavors and show the judges how much you’d grown.

But it threw them off, and you probably realized for the first time how deeply your own style of cooking had impressed them. They said that in reaching for something new, you’d left a part of yourself behind. You’d learned to sing a different song. But it wasn’t the song in your heart.

And you said, when you thanked them, “I got to honor my father. I got to cook for Hawaii.”

Thank you, Sheldon. In my book, you didn’t fall a little short, as you put it. You did Hawaii proud.

Here’s Sheldon’s interview from “Top Chef.”

P.S. Sheldon may not have won the $125,000 grand prize, but he’s a contender for Top Chef’s $10,000 fan favorite prize. Here’s where you can cast your vote.


You can read all of Mari’s blogs at Follow Mari on Twitter @NonStopMari or email at

  1. DianeSeo
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 6:24 am

    Great post, Mari. Made me a little teary even at 6 a.m. while reading it.

  2. MyongChoi
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I didn’t watch the show but reading your piece, wish I had. Glad to see a local boy make Hawaii proud..

  3. Melissa808
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Isaac Bancaco once said, “Eh, he helped put flips on da map!” Love it

  4. Melissa808
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Isaac Bancaco once said, “Eh, he helped put flips on da map!” Love it

  5. Lynettehere
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Sheldon…  Pa’ipaunahele…. so sad to see you no move on the finale…… I was rooting for you all the way…
    Aloha Pumehana,

  6. nonstopmari
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    @DianeSeo thnx. i got teary at 3 a.m. writing it.

  7. janibum
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 2:40 am

    @DianeSeo I think we called cried at “That’s a heavy one”

  8. janibum
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 2:41 am

    @DianeSeo I think we all cried at “That’s a heavy one”

  9. DianeSeo
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 8:28 am

    @janibum  Glad you saw the post. If I teared up, can only imagine how you felt.

  10. Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    I enjoyed reading this post Mari and equally enjoyed watching Chef Sheldon on Top Chef this entire season. I didn’t understand what his stage at Vintage Cave was for until seeing it in the show. Makes sense and I too commend him for making the push to go beyond his comfort zone in his attempt to impress the judges. There’s a bright future ahead…it’s already started…for Sheldon and I can’t wait to get back to Maui to visit Star Noodle.  He certainly made Hawaii proud, like Ippy Aiona did on Next Food Network Star.  In both cases, the aloha spirt was evident in these two classy gentlemen.


About Mari Taketa

Mari Taketa is a dedicated eater who's as opinionated as she is hungry. She covered everything from neighborhood mom-and-pop places to ethnic eateries to fine dining restaurants on Honolulu's dining scene for Metromix Honolulu and The Honolulu Advertiser's TGIF. Before that, she ate her way through Vietnam, Scotland and Japan, where she lived, traveled or worked, after recovering from a journalism career that included stints as editor-in-chief of Hawaii Business magazine and reporter and editor at The Associated Press. Her goals are to always be hungry for more, and to always want to know what's around the next corner.

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