Michael Symon is the quintessential celebrity chef. A culinary genius from a food-loving family, it’s fair to say that Symon was raised on delicious food. He’s since turned his passion for food into a successful business, running several restaurants. He’s become a familiar face through his cooking shows and as winner of the first season of The Next Iron Chef in 2008. If you’re not already a fan, you will be after learning the untold truth of this remarkably down-to-earth chef.
He keeps it in the family
Symon’s business is a family affair. “I really feel like I’m lucky,” he told USA Today. He and his wife, Liz, have been in the restaurant business for decades and opened their first restaurant together in 1997. His father “does the books” and his mother and mother-in-law used to answer the phones. Symon is proud that his business has “a mom-and-pop feel to it,” despite the $60 million it rakes in each year.
His guilty pleasure is Miracle Whip
He might be a celebrity chef, but that doesn’t mean that Symon shies away from what some may consider to be inferior ingredients. In an interview with Serious Eats, Symon revealed that he loves Miracle Whip.
“I can’t help it,” he said. “My dad used it when I was a kid. I got older, I became a chef, and I thought, ‘I can’t use this stuff, it’s bad, it’s evil.’ But now I go to the grocery store and I get it, I put it in the cart, people start looking through my cart—I can’t help it, I love Miracle Whip. You can’t make it. I can make mayonnaise—give me an egg, give me lemon, give me oil, and I can make mayonnaise. Can’t make Miracle Whip. You’re allowed one guilty pleasure and that’s mine. I like it. I don’t care! Oh, my wife hates it, but I love Miracle Whip so much! It’s tangy—it’s got a nice mustardy tang to it.”
His heritage heavily influences his cooking
Symon stays true to his roots with his cooking. He told SheKnows that he admires “the simplicity and pureness of Greek cuisine.”
“Ever since I was a little boy, Greek yogurt has been a staple in my kitchen,” he said. “In fact, my grandmother made Greek yogurt from scratch, and I’ve incorporated it into a ton of my recipes, including my wife’s famous biscuit recipe! I actually eat Dannon Oikos Greek yogurt every day because it reminds me of the yogurt I grew up with.”
Symon is also part Italian and the food he ate growing up helped him grow his reputation when he replicated it in his restaurants. “That’s what put me on the map,” he told Eater.
He wants food to be kept simple
Molecular gastronomy is one of the hottest food trends today, but Symon is over it. “I don’t like overhandled food,” he told Philadelphia Magazine. His idea of good cooking is all about simplicity. “The next big trend is going to be simplification, a continual movement back to basics,” he said. “It’s going to continue to move further away from foams and this and that and all this wackadoodle stuff and get back to great product cooked simply and put on a plate.
He’ll eat anything
Symon is the type of guy who will try anything, at least once. His adventurous tastes have led him to sample some pretty unusual dishes. He said there’s nothing he won’t try, although he does hate raspberries. “I’ve eaten everything at some point in my life,” he said. “I’ve eaten balut, which is gross and horrible. Testicles. Ants. Bugs. That snake urine thing.”
Donald Trump is banned from his restaurants
The 2016 presidential election led to a lot of celebrity endorsements. Symon didn’t endorse a candidate, although he did make it clear that he would not be supporting Donald Trump, going so far as to declare that he wouldn’t be welcome in his restaurants. “I’ve been fortunate — or unfortunate — enough to meet him through the years,” he said. “And I’m not gonna lie, he creeps me out a little bit.”
Symon made it clear that he comes from a politically diverse family. “Anybody that knows me knows that I’m not afraid to speak my mind,” he said. ” This isn’t a democratic/republican thing, trust me. It’s just a ‘he creeps me out’ thing.”
His mom still gives him cooking pointers
The Symon family knows good food. Symon’s mom passed down her knowledge of cooking, and still provides guidance. “She’ll always tell me I’m doing something wrong,” said Symon. The chef admitted that he still has yet to perfect his mother’s baklava. “The baklava is a family recipe, and my mom is the only one who can make it right,” he said. “I’ve been watching her make it since I was 4, but I always mess up and ‘over-chef’ it.”
Symon’s mother provided the inspiration for his restaurant, Angeline, which is named for her. The menu is based off of family recipes and one of the restaurant’s signature dishes is aptly titled “Mom’s Lasagna.”
“Every Wednesday at my parents’ house was lasagna night—the night all my friends begged to eat over,” Symon told Food & Wine. “You could smell the lasagna baking houses away, and Wednesday was the only night of the week I was more than happy to be early for dinner. I’ve eaten lasagna from every corner of the earth, and I have yet to find one as good as Mom’s.”
He has a lot of tattoos
Symon has quite a bit of ink decorating his body. I’m not sure how many,” his wife, Liz, said in an interview. “I would say calves, chest and upper arms. Multiples in every location.”
Symon said that he got his first tattoo, a cartoon devil, while he was still in high school. He estimates that he’s has spent around 200 hours getting tattooed.
He’s been in the restaurant business since he was a kid
“I grew up in a big food household,” Symon told Behind the Pass. The budding chef was provided with plenty of inspiration in his multi-cultural family in which “food was a central part.”
“I was kind of always in the kitchen as a kid,” he said. “Started working in restaurants when I was 13, almost 14 years old, and just fell in love with the business and worked in restaurants through high school.” After high school, Symon decided to go on to culinary school and the rest is history. The celebrity chef warned prospective chefs that the life is not as glamorous it seems and that it requires a lot of dedication. “It’s one of the toughest businesses in the world,” he said.
He’s a part-time vegetarian
Symon is a die-hard meat lover (he’s even written a cookbook for fellow carnivores), but the chef opts for vegetarian food at least two days a week. This is because his wife, Liz, is a vegan. “At least two, typically three, days a week I eat vegan — not always vegan but vegetarian, because it’s easier to cook for us both at home if we eat the same thing,” he said.
Bobby Flay is his BFF
While there’s a lot of infighting among celeb chefs, Symon is tight with Bobby Flay. One of the secrets to their enduring friendship, which goes back to 1998, is taking away the competitive edge. “We refuse to compete against each other, whether it be on Iron Chef or anything else,” said Symon. “We’ve never gone head-to-head. We compete against each other on the golf course; we don’t compete [against] each other in the kitchen.”