DuJour Navigation

A Hawaiian Top Chef Star on Poke

Chef Sheldon Simeon talks about the island origins of this trendy dish

Whether poke bowls are here to stay remains to be seen, but the Hawaiian-inspired dish is certainly catching on quickly across the mainland. Pokéworks, a Chipotle-esque chain restaurant where you can build your own poke bowl, has locations in nine states and is rapidly growing. Most recently, they enlisted the help of Chef Sheldon Simeon, a contestant on Top Chef Season 10 and Hawaii native, to create a signature bowl for the menu.

His Coco Bora bowl will make use of a fish called bora, a delicious but underutilized fish that is a welcome departure from tuna when it comes to sustainability. He’s flavoring the fish with a Filipino-inspired mixture of ginger, chilies, coconut vinegar and coconut milk that pays homage to his parent’s heritage. Below, we caught up with him to get his take on this trending topic.

Is “po-kay” the right pronunciation?


Okay! So what exactly is it?

Poke is a traditional Hawaiian dish that’s mostly made with raw fish. It started off with fish that is like reef fish, instead of what you see now, like tuna and salmon. But the Hawaiians did it very simply with a little bit of sea salt, a little bit of kukui nuts, which is candlenuts, and then maybe some seaweed and that’s like that basis of it.

So traditional poke is not made with rice, like the poke bowls popular now?

Not with rice. Poke bowls on rice actually only started less than 10 years ago. In Hawaii every single supermarket already has it where they’re already pre-mixed and you get a pound of it.

Poke bowl

Is there any backlash against the poke trend in Hawaii?

There is, a lot of it coming from Hawaiian chefs in Hawaii. But again, it’s a double-edged sword. As long as people know the origin of where poke came from, and what the roots of the dish are, then from then on the creativity is fine. What Pokéworks has done is amazing, too, because it’s a platform for maybe people who have never had raw fish before to try it. And these guys mix in all kinds of cool ingredients.

What’s another Hawaiian dish people should try?

Saimin. It’s the Hawaiian form of ramen. It’s a perfect example of when you bring all these different cultures together and create a dish that’s equally as Hawaiian as poke or kalua pigs.

Can you translate poke to English?

Poke means to cut or to cube.