Chef, restauranteur, Clevelander, and television personality Michael Symon gets everyday home cooks excited about creating great meals.
• Co-host of ABC’s cooking talk show “The Chew”
• 2008 winner on Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef”
• Graduated from The Culinary Institute of America
• Restaurants include Lola Bistro, Angeline, Roast, Bar Symon, B Spot Burgers, and Mabel’s BBQ
• Author of the cookbooks “Live to Cook”, “Carnivore”, “5 in 5” and “5 in 5 for Every Season”
• Awarded 2009 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes
• Frequently showcases his Greek-Italian roots in his recipes
• Relaxes by riding his Harley, gardening, golfing and spending time with his wife, Liz, and dog Ozzy
• Loves football and avidly supports The Cleveland Browns
• Would choose his mom’s lasagna for his last supper
A Regular Guy, An Extraordinary Chef
Since the advent of cooking shows, television chefs have inspired viewers. But no one connects with the public quite like Michael Symon, who motivates millions of fledgling home cooks to head into their kitchens and wield their sauté pans with confidence. While extolling the virtues of his favorite cuts of meat or pulling enticing dishes together from just five ingredients, Symon always comes across as hang-worthy, a dude you can joke around with. Accessibility is his medium as much as food is.
That’s by default, not by design. Symon’s path as a chef has always been to pull from and build on his roots. “All of the learning sits on the big rock of what I call heritage food, the food given to me by my mom and dad and their families,” he wrote in his first cookbook, “Live to Cook.” “I built my career on family food.”
Known equally for his growing empire of restaurants and his years of appearances on Food Network and ABC, Symon’s rise as a celebrity consistently traces back to Cleveland, his hometown. His father’s roots went back to the Ukraine; his mother had Greek and Italian parents; She made lasagna every Wednesday night, and Symon’s friends all clamored to come over for dinner. The experience of sharing meals together was just as fundamental as family members preparing the food itself.
An avid wrestler in his teens, Symon was sidelined when he broke two bones in his arm during practice. The accident was a fated one: unable to wrestle, Symon got a job cooking at a local pizza and ribs joint. He’d found his new tribe.
After graduating from cooking school, Symon returned to Cleveland and met Liz, who managed the restaurant where he worked. The couple opened their first restaurant, Lola, in Cleveland in 1997. It was an anchor that helped transform the now-bustling Tremont neighborhood to a destination. “Food & Wine” magazine named Symon Best New Chef in 1998 and “Gourmet” put Lola on its America’s Best Restaurants list in 2000. Such accolades landed Symon in the national spotlight … and put Cleveland on the map as a serious player with culinary cred.
There’s perhaps no bigger champion of Cleveland. Symon is a ceaseless advocate for the city, with its rich culinary melting pot reflecting the many ethnic groups that have made it their home over the years. “Everything I seem to have needed as a chef has been right here in Cleveland,” he says in “Eat to Live.”
Symon’s family has always been involved in his restaurants, and they’re a family game in more ways than one. He counts his business partners, chefs, and support staff as family, too. He and Liz’s son Kyle now runs a donut and coffee shop, continuing the tradition.
On television, the dynamic Symon pops to life even more. He’s always ready with a self-deprecating remark or a good-natured jibe at his co-hosts on “The Chew,” the cooking-themed talk show he joined in 2011. When cooking on camera, he moves with a mix of ease and hustle—a quality that makes personable yet authoritative. If it looks like the gang on “The Chew” is having fun, it’s because they are. “The five of us on ‘The Chew’ are very close, and I’ve always been very lucky to work with the people I love,” Symon told “USA Today” in 2017.
Symon is an unabashed meat lover. Check out his “Eat More Meat” t-shirt for proof. Yet many of his recipes are vegetarian. Liz doesn’t eat meat, and a lot of the cooking he does at home focuses on dishes they can enjoy together. On “The Chew,” Symon’s contributions to occasional Meatless Monday-themed shows, such as his mushroom Bolognese, show omnivorous home cooks that vegetarian food doesn’t have to be hidden under a blanket of cheese to be satisfying.
One of the most popular segments on “The Chew” features Symon taking on the challenge to make a full meal in five minutes using five ingredients as a large clock counts down in the background. The segment spawned two cookbooks, “5 in 5” and “5 in 5 for Every Season.” Both offer from-scratch recipes that are realistic to pull together on a weeknight without breaking the bank.
Though he’s one of the most recognized culinary personalities in America, Symon always keeps approachability at the fore. On his Twitter account, fans ask him where they should eat in Cleveland or share their own cooking success stories. Symon is quick to respond, his replies chatty and upbeat.
Between his restaurants, television shows, cookbooks, and personal appearances, how does Symon keep up? Driven by connections, he never loses sight of the connections that matter most. He and Liz head to their house in the Hamptons every summer and hang out with their son Kyle, who lives there. Or it could be just squeezing in a trip to the farmers market, a day golfing, or a home-cooked meal with his dog Ozzy at his feet. Without the grounding power of those experiences, the authenticity that makes Symon so appealing would ring hollow. He makes fans happy because it’s clear he values happiness himself.