Michael Symon - A Local Legend
As a kid from northeast Ohio, seeing Chef Michael Symon on Food Network always excited me; I mean, he’s an Iron Chef after all. He and I also share similar ethnic backgrounds with families hailing from Greece and Italy, so when approached with the opportunity to interview him, I could hardly contain my excitement! To be completely honest, it’s what kicked me into high gear to get my website off the ground after 4+ years of “I have the domain, I just need to build the thing.”
For the second year in a row, Michael Symon is acting as the Keynote Speaker for the Ohio Restaurant Association’s Mid-Ohio Restaurant Expo. If you’re not in the restaurant business, don’t be alarmed if you’ve never heard of either of these things! For some background, the Ohio Restaurant Association is a community of restaurants that helps with some of the less glamorous aspects of the restaurant industry (think employee benefits, payroll, etc.) and the Expo is their annual trade show where restauranteurs, innovators, and industry experts come together to compete, showcase new tools, and network. What does the Expo mean for my blog this year? I was given the privilege of interviewing Michael Symon from a food blogger’s perspective.
So - without further ado - here we go!
Me: With the exponential growth of social media and the culture of the “phone eats first,” if you will, how have food bloggers and Instagrammers impacted your restaurants and other business ventures?
MS: When I first opened a restaurant 22 years ago, I never thought about whether or not there was a good place at the location where someone could take a picture on Instagram. Whether chefs or restaurateurs like it or not, it’s become an important thing to be aware of and work it into your business plan. It’s a bit of an adjustment but you learn how to use it to benefit your business. However, when people take pictures, we want the guests to eat the food before it gets cold!
— Side note - Let’s just say you all know I’m guilty of this one, I regularly eat cold food and so does my husband (sorry!) *insert embarrassed emoji here*
Me: I grew up in Northeast Ohio and know that the Cleveland food scene receives a lot of national media attention, whereas Columbus has only recently received recognition from Food Network, Forbes, Food & Wine, etc. How do you think the Columbus food scene has evolved in the last few years and do you think it has the potential to be a true foodie destination?
MS: Columbus has a tremendous restaurant scene and has for a long time, including legends like Cameron Mitchell who is one of the best in the country and has expanded on a national scale. If you look at restaurants per square foot, I bet Columbus is busier than my hometown because dining out is a big form of entertainment in the city. Many chains do use Columbus as a test market, so outsiders may see it as a chain town, but that’s changing. I just featured a couple restaurants on my show Burgers, Brew & ‘Que on Food Network, so it’s definitely happening there, but it takes some time to get that recognition. When I go to Columbus as a consumer, I see it as a food-driven town.
Me: If you could only eat at one restaurant for the rest of your life, where would it be and what would you eat?
Me: Was there ever a time in your restaurant and TV persona where you just wanted to throw in the kitchen towel?
MS: Never. I’ve always loved what I do, and I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve been able to have a career doing what I really love, both in restaurants and on TV.
Me: When you’re at home with your family and the cameras are off, what is your favorite thing to cook?
MS: As a chef, I love making perfect eggs. Whether a perfect omelet, soft scramble or sunny-side up, it’s one of my favorite things to make. A perfect omelet with no color that’s a little runny in the center, with maybe a little gruyere cheese is everything.
Me: My ethnic background is also Greek and Italian – how has your culture shaped your relationship with food?
MS: It’s what drove me into the business that I’m in. Growing up as a kid, food, especially dinner, was a central part of my childhood, around the dinner table every night, 7 days a week. Sometimes with immediate family, and sometimes extended. After breakfast, we were already talking about what we’re having for lunch. All of my best lessons in life were learned around the dinner table.
— Side note: This is EXACTLY how my family is - we are constantly thinking of our next meal! To quote a crinkled, browning poem my mom recently found that my Yiayia (Greek grandmother) had clipped and saved, “My appetite is my shepherd, I always want. It maketh me to sit down and stuff myself…” Perhaps I’ll post the whole thing another time.
Me: What country is on your food bucket list?
MS: I’ve been almost everywhere, but the one place that I oddly enough haven’t been is Spain. I’ve been everywhere around it, so it’s one place I’d like to check-off. I’m going to make sure José Andrés brings me so I can get the full experience!
— Side note: I’m hoping to go to Spain and Portugal next summer for the first time, so bring on all the food and travel suggestions!
Me: What do you think is your greatest culinary accomplishment?
MS: What I’m most proud of is what I call my family tree. Those are people that have come from our kitchen and are now very high up in our company as corporate chefs or have branched off and opened their own restaurants over the years. Not only have we done a good job of running our own locations, but we’ve also helped create a culture where there’s a lot of chef owners in the city of Cleveland and beyond because of the foundation we gave them. It’s a great feeling to go into someone’s restaurant that used to work for you and you see them having success. It’s special.
So that’s a wrap on my first (and hopefully not last) celebrity chef interview - I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! I will potentially update this article following Chef Michael Symon’s Keynote speech this weekend, so stay tuned :)