Celebrity chef Michael Symon, a Cleveland native, returned home recently, discussed how his passion for his hometown has served the city well.
With three Cleveland hot spots—Lola, Mabel's BBQ and B Spot—Symon knows how to cook up a good meal and time.
The Cleveland-born chef, restaurateur and TV host is spicing things up again with a new role: Good Morning America's resident chef.
"I'll be doing for the most part weekly cooking segments and hosting some other cooking segments when people are coming on," he said.
Symon's sixth cook book is also now out, but this one's different. The 50-year-old has battled two autoimmune diseases since his 20s—rheumatoid arthritis and external lupus.
His new cookbook, Fix it With Food, focuses on recipes to reduce painful inflammation.
"Before I learned how to control this with my diet, I would wake up in the morning and my hands were like this," he said with almost a clenched fist. "It would take me like an hour of hot water and Aleve to get them going again, and from changing how I eat, about 85% of that pain is gone."
The power of good food to fuel the body and a city.
Symon opened his first restaurant in Cleveland 23 years ago. He has helped plant the seeds of what's grown into a world-class culinary scene here.
"A lot of Cleveland people move back home," he said. "Maybe they were in New York, or San Francisco, Chicago or LA and they see a vibrant food scene here and realize they can move back and be a chef here."
He says the people and product are the key ingredients.
"We have the greatest produce in the world," he said. "We have the greatest beef in the world. The greatest pork in the world. You know, farm to table has become a thing nationwide, but farm to table has existed here as long as I've cooked. We just didn't call it that. We just called the farmer and they brought it to our table," he laughed. "So, I think the ability to get the products that we're able to get here, there aren't many places in America that can do what we do."
Symon says they're adding a new BBQ sauce at Mable's. A mustard-vinegar sauce is his Cleveland staple. They call it "Cleveland BBQ sauce."
He says the new one is a sweet, tomato-based sauce that will be called, "Not Cleveland BBQ sauce!"
When asked about his cannot-miss stops when he's in town, Symon says he has a lot of great chef friends and peers he greatly admires, but said he has a lot of respect for Karen Small, the owner and executive chef of Flying Fig.
"She's a spectacular human being, a spectacular chef, and she sources product like no other," said Symon. "She was doing farm-to-table way before everyone else and I think her restaurant is super special and her food is super special.
What's the best compliment he's ever received?
"The best thing anybody can say to any chef, and it's a funny thing because people who aren't chefs don't get it, is you're a great cook," he said. "To be a great chef you have to be a great coach, a great manager, know how to run people, but to be a great cook, you have to have the ability to put out some great food."
Personally, he said the best compliment he can get is when people he's know his whole life tell him he hasn't changed.
"I think all of us just want to go through life being the best person we can be, try to help others when we can and maybe everybody gets along better," he said. "That's what I love about food. Regardless of religion, political views, sports teams... when you're around the table and you put delicious food in the middle of it, it brings people together."
As for other new projects, Symon says he has two new shows for Food Network that start filming in January, and he does live cooking weekly on the Food Network kitchen app.
This article was written by Katie Ussin for WEWS .