Michael D. Symon (born September 19, 1969) is a James Beard Foundation Award–winning American chef, restaurateur, television personality, and author. He is seen regularly on Food Network on shows such as Iron Chef America, Food Feuds, and The Best Thing I Ever Ate, as well as Cook Like an Iron Chef on the Cooking Channel and The Chew on ABC. He has also made numerous contributions to periodicals such as Bon Appétit, Esquire, Food Arts, Gourmet, Saveur and O, The Oprah Magazine.
Symon is credited with helping to "save" the restaurant scene in Downtown Cleveland, Ohio. He is the chef and owner of a number of restaurants in the Greater Cleveland area, including his flagship Lola, Lolita, Mabel's BBQ and burger franchise The B Spot. Additionally, he owns Michael Symon's Roast (also known as Roast) in Detroit, Michigan. Symon describes his cooking as "meat-centric."
Symon was born in Cleveland, Ohio and is of Greek, Italian, and Eastern European ancestry. He was raised in North Olmsted, Ohio, attending St. Richard School in North Olmsted and St. Edward High School in Lakewood, graduating in 1987. He took a part-time job at Geppetto's Pizza and Ribs on Warren Rd. as a cook.
He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in 1990.
Chef and restaurateur
Symon worked the Cleveland restaurant scene, working at Player's, a Mediterranean restaurant in Lakewood. In 1993, he moved to Piccolo Mondo as chef, developing a small yet devoted following. He subsequently moved to Caxton Cafe.
In February 1997, Michael and his then-fiancée (now wife), Liz Shanahan, opened Lola in Cleveland's trendy Tremont neighborhood. It is named after his aunt. At the time, the neighborhood was just beginning to be rediscovered and develop into the hipster, "go to" neighborhood that it has become. Tremont food scene pioneers, Gerry Groh and Lynda Khoury, had opened and grown one of the first new restaurant, named Bohemia, in Tremont. After several years of success, the couple was ready to move on to other ventures and the couple sold the space to the Symons. Lola garnered rave reviews and was named one of America's Best Restaurants in Gourmet magazine in its October 2000 issue. In 2005, he converted Lola into Lolita, and reopened Lola in downtown Cleveland the next year.
On April 15, 2006, Symon opened a third restaurant, Parea, which in Greek means "a group of friends" or "company," in New York City. The restaurant, which featured upscale Greek food and was located on East 20th Street near Park Avenue, was run by Jonathon Sawyer, who tutored under Symon at Lolita. It was located next door to Gramercy Tavern. Symon partnered with Telly Hatzigeorgiou, George Pantelidis, and Peter J. Pappas. Although he gave the food a 2-stars rating (very good), New York Times food critic Frank Bruni noted that the sound level reached "piercing heights." By many accounts, the food was good, as the restaurant was even listed on "100 Tastes to Try in ’07" in Food & Wine magazine. However, the New York restaurant scene considered his flavors not "vibrant" enough, and it was chided that it "might improve after Mr. Symon gets more experience in the New York restaurant world." It closed in 2007, and was acquired by Stavros Aktipis who renamed it Kellari's Parea.
Symon opened Roast, a restaurant at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit, Michigan in autumn 2008. Roast was named the 2009 Restaurant of the Year by the Detroit Free Press.
He opened a restaurant on July 1, 2009, called Bar Symon in Avon Lake, Ohio featuring casual concepts on tavern food. Soon after, he opened a similarly themed restaurant named B Spot in Woodmere, Ohio.
In October 2009, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced that Symon would contribute menu items to be prepared by foodservice firm Aramark at the Quicken Loans Arena. Two existing restaurants were renamed after Symon's bar-bistros, Bar Symon and The B-Spot, and some of his signature dishes were made available as suite catering offerings.
On October 19, 2010, Symon announced that he would be closing the Avon Lake location of Bar Symon. He later announced two more The B Spot locations, one in Strongsville (opened April 6, 2011) and another in Westlake (late 2011). Another B Spot opened at the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland in May 2012, and a B Spot stand opened on the club level at Cleveland Browns Stadium for the 2012 NFL season.
On June 25, 2012, Symon opened another Bar Symon in Pittsburgh International Airport-Airmall in partnership with United Concessions Group and The Paradies Shops.
On November 21, 2015 Symon opened Symon's Burger Joint in Austin, TX near The University of Texas. This was his first venture outside of the Midwest.
On April 11, 2016 Symon opened Mabel's BBQ on East 4th Street adjacent to Lola.
Symon often appears on behalf of Food Network. During the summer of 2009, he promoted the Food Network's videogame Cook Or Be Cooked for Nintendo Wii, which was released on November 3, 2009.
Symon was one of the rotating hosts of Food Network's show Melting Pot. He appeared on Sara's Secrets with Sara Moulton, Ready, Set, Cook, and FoodNation with Bobby Flay. In 2005, he appeared on Iron Chef America, where he lost to Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in Battle Asparagus.
On August 27, 2007, Symon appeared in the "Cleveland, OH" episode of the television series Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.
While competing in the reality competition TV series The Next Iron Chef, he reported on his experiences for Fortune, posted on CNN Money. On November 11, 2007, after a head-to-head match against John Besh, Symon was declared the winner of the entire competition. On November 18, 2007, Symon won his first battle on Iron Chef America.
On April 21, 2008, the Food Network announced that Symon would take over as host of Dinner: Impossible, the network's third most popular show. He hosted the show for ten episodes until host Robert Irvine was reinstated. Although it was not announced publicly, Symon knew it was a temporary gig "from the start."
He appeared along with several other Food Network stars on Dear Food Network: Thanksgiving Disasters, a program dealing with dinner mishaps which first aired November 17, 2008. He appeared in the very first episode of the network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate, which featured his restaurant Lolita.
Cook Like an Iron Chef, a Cooking Channel show starring Symon, debuted in July 2010. He described it as "a show for the people who've watched Food Network forever and are ready to learn something more advanced or more creative."
The show Food Feuds, which featured Symon, premiered October 10, 2010. He travels to various locales and performs a direct comparison competition between local food rivals.
On February 14, 2011, Symon appeared in a skit on the late-night talk show Conan, in which a young couple had won a "romantic" Valentine's Day dinner date on the set. Conan O'Brien announced that Symon would be presenting them with their dinner—which he did, in the form of a Taco Party Pack from Taco Bell.
In September 2011, Symon began co-hosting The Chew on ABC networks, a daily talk show that is centered on food-related and lifestyle topics.
Symon was featured in fellow Clevelander Michael Ruhlman's 2001 book, The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection. The second part of the three-part book focuses on Symon's quest for culinary perfection.
In 2009, Symon collaborated with Ruhlman to write his first cookbook, Michael Symon's Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen (ISBN 978-0307453655). The foreword is written by fellow Iron Chef Bobby Flay. It was published by Clarkson Potter and was released on November 3, 2009.
On September 25, 2012, another cookbook was released named "The Chew: Food. Life. Fun." (ISBN 978-1401311063), co-authored by Symon along with fellow Iron Chef Mario Batali, long-time Food Network producer Gordon Elliott, Carla Hall, Clinton Kelly, and Daphne Oz. Three weeks later, Symon and Cleveland food writer Douglas Trattner collaborated to release his second offering, "Michael Symon's Carnivore: 120 Recipes for Meat Lovers" (ISBN 978-0307951786).
Beginning in September 2012, the Chew crew began releasing seasonal e-book cookbooks with "The Chew: Fall Flavors: More than 20 Seasonal Recipes from The Chew Kitchen," published by Hyperion Books, which is a unit of ABC parent The Walt Disney Company. It was followed up with "The Chew: Winter Flavors" in December 2012, while "The Chew: Spring Flavors" and "The Chew: Summer Flavors" were both released on April 23, 2013.
The Chew: What's for Dinner (ISBN 978-1-4013-1281-7), was released on September 24, 2013, by Hyperion Books, and is the second book based on the hot ABC television show. The cookbook features 100 easy recipes for every night of the week provided by Symon along with his co-hosts. In this cookbook, Symon provides quick and easy recipes for chicken marsala, angel hair caprese, and many others. He also shares tips on how to cook scallops restaurant-style.
Product line and endorsements
In 2008, Symon began working as a "spokeschef," representing cookware companies Vitamix and Calphalon, appearing at housewares shows and other demonstration events.
In 2011, Symon partnered with kitchenware company Weston Products on his official specialty kitchen product line, the Michael Symon Live to Cook Collection by Weston.
In 2012, and again in 2013, Symon was paired with actress Eva Longoria for a promotion for Pepsico's Lay's potato chip called "Do Us A Flavor." The promotion encourages consumers to submit new flavor ideas and fans vote for their favorite on Facebook. The person who creates the winning flavor is awarded $1 million or one percent of chip flavor's net sales.
Awards and honors
- 1995 - named Cleveland's Hottest Chef by The Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine
- 2007 - Iron Chef winner
- 2007 - named Best Local Chef by Cleveland Magazine
- 2009 - James Beard Foundation Award - "Best Chef Great Lakes"
- Three-time winner - Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival Best Burger Award (2010, 2011, 2012)"
- 2015 - Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Informative Talk Show Host (shared with his co-hosts on The Chew).
- Ruhlman, Michael. "The Lola Moment", Cleveland Magazine, November 2006.
- AP ‘Fat Doug’ named top hamburger Iron Chef Michael Symon beats out Bobby Flay's creation, Today Show website, February 26, 2010. (accessed March 16, 2010)
Symon is married to Liz Symon, who has also been a collaborator on his restaurants. Symon has an adult stepson, Kyle, who was two years old when Michael and Liz met.