For this week's cookbook review we decided to bring you the recently published cookbook from the two-time Top Chef finalist Sheldon Simeon - Cook Real Hawai'i.
Even when he was winning accolades and adulation for his cooking, Sheldon Simeon decided to drop what he thought he was supposed to cook as a chef. He dedicated himself instead to the local Hawai‘i food that feeds his ‘ohana - his family and neighbors. With uncomplicated, flavor-forward recipes, he shows us the many cultures that have come to create the cuisine of his beloved home: the native Hawaiian traditions, Japanese influences, Chinese cooking techniques, and dynamic Korean, Portuguese, and Filipino flavors that are closest to his heart.
If you follow our work you know that we love a good history. For us, a good cookbook has to offer more than just delicious recipes. Cook Real Hawai'i offers exactly that!
Sheldon decided to open his book with a fascinating and very interesting introduction, about himself, Hawai'í, and its big 'ohana. Divided into 3 sections, Introduction, My Story, and A Brief History of Hawai'i, these sections, are in our opinion, essentials for the contextualization of this book. Not only you will get to know more about the chef that was voted twice as Fan Favorite in the American Top Chef, but will also get to know more about the Hawaiian culture, and understanding better what you can find in the rest of the book.
Another interesting thing about this book is its FAQs section (just before the recipes), called How to Use This Book. Here you'll find all the information you need to get the most out of this book. You'll learn how to best serve the recipes in this book, why are certain words spelled differently, or where you should source any hard-to-find ingredients.
All these four sections combined, Introduction, My Story, A Brief History of Hawai'i, and How to Use This Book are the perfect start before the roller coaster of flavors that you will find in the recipes sections.
Before we get into more details about the recipes, you need to know that you will not find recipes for Kalua pig (roasted pork) and Poi (pounded taro root) in this book. For those who are familiar with Hawaiin cuisine, you may find it strange that two of Hawaii's most traditional dishes do not appear in this book, but there is a good explanation for this. As Sheldon says in the book "I've chosen not to include them in this book, because, frankly, I think such elemental dishes have to be experienced in Hawai'i to be fully understood and appreciated".
Now that you already know this, let's talk a little bit more about the actual recipes in this book. The recipes in Cook Real Hawai'i are foods that represent Sheldon's culture and family, foods of great celebration and bounty, of poverty and humility. These are foods that capture the spirit of immigrants, both recent and long-settled, the foods of America. In other words, this is local food!
The recipes in this book are diverse and unique, being influenced by the different communities of Hawai'i. Wok-Fried Poke, Pork Belly Adobo, Crispy Cauliflower Katsu, and Charred Huli-Huli Chicken slicked with a sweet-savory butter glaze, are just some of the recipes that capture the real essence of Hawaiian cuisine. As you'll see in this book, the recipes are a representation of Hawai'i big 'Ohana.
Although the majority of the recipes are different from what most of us are used to eat daily, there's a solid chance you have most of the stuff you need already on hand. Most ingredients can be found in a well-stocked grocery store, with just a few items requiring a trip to your nearest Asian market. Besides this, all the recipes are relatively easy to do and can be done in just a few steps. The only thing that we would have loved to see in the recipes was the ingredients listed in weight. But we believe that the choice to use only the volume measurements is related to the uncomplicated approach of this book.
Cook Real Hawai'i is a fantastic cookbook that will bring a true taste of the cookouts, homes, and iconic mom and pop shops of Hawai'i into your kitchen. This is a book that won our hearts through its amazing stories and delicious recipes.
Cook Real Hawai'i: A Cookbook will tell you the story of Hawaiian cooking, by a two-time Top Chef finalist and Fan Favorite, through 100 recipes that embody the beautiful cross-cultural exchange of the islands.