Michael Symon

Perhaps it’s injudicious to say so (especially if Rachael Ray is reading this–sorry Rachael!), but of all the Food Network stars I’ve met so far, my favorite, hands down, has to be Michael Symon. I think Food Network stars come in two types: those with light-switch personalities (on one second, off the next) and those who are the same onscreen as they are offscreen. Michael Symon, most certainly, is in the latter camp. He’s the real deal: a great chef (the perogies I ate at his restaurant Lola, after shooting the video you’ll see below, were truly unforgettable–worth a trip to Cleveland) who is also kind, charismatic, and, most of all, authentic. Check out this video and see if you don’t agree:

Perhaps my affection for him is also due to this interview (click here) which was the first thing I did for Food Network. Needless to say, I was terrified. I never told you about that day–it happened in mid-December–when, after rounds of interviews, I showed up to shoot an actual pilot, there at 7:30 am, where an entire crew was waiting. They put me in hair and make-up and then they whisked me on to a very real set, with about 20 people in the room, and said, “OK–go!” The format of the pilot was much different from the shows you’ve seen: they had me working from a script I wrote myself–a little like “The Daily Show” meets “Talk Soup”–and there was one impassioned essay I wrote, a mock diatribe about dieting, that I could not get right for the life of me. Take 20, Take 21… it was humiliating and draining and by the end of that segment, I figured my career as a Food Network web host was officially over.

But then came Michael Symon, who was flown in explicitly for this interview. And he was so affable, such a good sport, that I suddenly felt calm again and when we sat down to talk, even though all the cameras were there and the same crew that’d seen me mess up with such flair, I was completely at ease. And the same was true, months later, when I flew to Cleveland to shoot the segment you saw in the first video. Even though I was in a real restaurant kitchen with that wall of heat (I’m not sure many of you realize how hot it is in a restaurant kitchen, especially behind the grill station) and a bunch of sweaty, suspicious sous chefs and sauciers, I may as well have been in my own kitchen cooking. Michael Symon casts a spell around him–it’s the spell of a supremely talented chef completely at ease with himself and others.

A few weeks later, I was in Miami, walking with a friend, and I heard a voice calling. “Hey Adam!” The voice was familiar but difficult to place. Then I identified the source: it was Michael Symon standing outside his hotel with his wife. If you would’ve told me last year that an Iron Chef / chef cult hero would be calling out my name at a Wine & Food Festival, I would’ve called you mad. “MAD!” I would’ve said and that would’ve been it. But now I’ve met Michael Symon and I feel like I’ve made a new friend. If nothing else comes from this gig, that’s enough for me. And an even better reason to return to Cleveland, a city we barely saw–we flew in, shot at Lola, slept in a hotel, and flew out the next morning. I say: Spring Break Clevleand 2008. Who’s with me? Party at Symon’s place. I promise, I won’t do the cooking.

P.S. Michael Symon has his own blog, Symon Says, which you should go read by clicking the words “Symon Says.”

P.P.S. Michael Ruhlman, another Cleveland cult hero, was there the night I was cooking, mocking me and my food. (Actually, I think he said I did a decent job.) Unfortunately, the footage didn’t find its way into the end video (it’s hard to edit this stuff down to 3 minutes!) So apologies to Ruhlman and a promise that when I do return to Cleveland, I’ll bring him a gift bag of raw venison liver to show my remorse. (Click here for explanation.)

P.P.S. I’m going to post the recipe for that ziti with fennel and sausage later tonight. Stay tuned!