Fundraiser dinner at Merriman’s benefits land preservation

POIPU — Growing up in Hilo, local-based chef Sheldon Simeon fondly remembers fishing with his father and grandfather.

“We were standing there and my grandpa showed me where he used to fish for moi,” said Simeon, owner of Tin Roof restaurant on Maui and guest chef at a benefit dinner to support the Hawaii Islands Land Trust at Merriman’s Poipu on Sunday. “It was the same exact land that it was. That’s what these guys are trying to do: preserve this beautiful place, not try to get it develop so our kids can see ‘em.”

Simeon, along with Merriman’s Chef Mark Arriola, prepared an exquisite dinner for about 80 guests who paid $120 each at the Kauai Island Paina, a benefit to preserve land in Hawaii.

“So much of it, especially the valuable ocean fronts, is being develop,” said Peter Merriman, owner and chef at Merriman’s Poipu and HILT board member. “It’s one of HILT’s criteria when they are evaluating land: They look at how at risk that piece of land is. The more at risk, the more HILT likes to protect it.”

Harvey Cohen, a guest, said he’s happy to be on the journey to support HILT. “It’s been a lifelong effort to preserve much of the island as we can in its natural and scenic state and it’s a great event, great organization,” Cohen said.

Culturally, it is the responsibility of the people to be stewards of the land, said Sarah Bakewell, one of the 80 guests in attendance and HILT board member.

“It’s important everybody knows what we’re doing and it’s a win-win for property owners who want to preserve parts of their property and work with us to see what we can do to save the property for perpetuity,” Bakewell said.

Simeon, voted as one of Hawaii’s best chefs in various local publications and a participant in season 10 of “Top Chef,” prepared four dishes for guests with Asian-infused roots familiar to those raised when sugar was the agriculture king in the state.

“First off with have onaga sashimi with bug juice (bug juice is a dip we used to make for dip our green guava and mango in),” he said. “Second course is ozoni, since we’re close to the New Year. It’s a mochi dish with clams and clam miso broth and mizuna.”

The last entree was sinuglaw, a dish from the southern Philippine region that consists of pork belly, seared ahi with coconut milk and onion puree.

For dessert, Simeon delighted guests with a Filipino favorite, bibingka: lemon butter mochi with yuzu curd, ube and meringue.

“For me, it’s all about giving back to the community because the community is going take of you after that,” Simeon said.

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