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Q+A with Food Feuds' Michael Symon, Cooking on the Big Island, Jan. 21-22


Chef Michael Symon will be cooking at the James Beard Celebrity Chef dinner, Jan. 22, at the Mauna Lani Hotel & Bungalows. He will be joined by Bravo Top Chef Jonathan Waxman.

Courtesy Food Network

Michael Symon—chef-owner of five Midwestern restaurants, James Beard winner, Iron Chef, star of the Food Network's Food Feuds—talked to us from his home base in Cleveland about his upcoming James Beard Celebrity Chef dinner on the Big Island.  He loves "local food," no matter what the locality.  And he hates shoveling snow.

Looking forward to coming to Hawaii?  We're excited, especially today.  We're getting pummeled with snow here, four to six inches.  January's a tough month in Cleveland.

How did you end up making your career in Cleveland anyway?  I was born and raised here.  I studied and trained in New York, but came back right after.  My wife and I opened our first restaurant here 14 years ago, and four out of our five restaurants are in the Cleveland area.

What other stops are you making on the James Beard Celebrity Chef tour?  Just Hawaii.

How did you pull that off? I do several events a year for the James Beard Foundation.  I guess if you're good to James Beard Foundation, they give you the good gigs.

In Hawaii, you're paired up in the kitchen with Chef Jonathan Waxman.  We've been doing dinners together for quite a while. Waxman is one of the true fathers of American cuisine, pioneering the farm-to-table movement all the way back to his days at Chez Panisse in the '70s.  His restaurant in New York [Barbuto] is fantastic.  They are not many chefs whose food I'd rather eat.

What have you got planned for Hawaii?  We're going to tour the local farms, see what unique produce they have.  I know we're going to do whole suckling pigs, a couple of them.  And we use Hawaii fish already in our Cleveland restaurants.  I think it's going to be great.

Have you tasted much of what we call "local food" in Hawaii?  Really looking forward to it.  I love food that's truly Americana, that belongs to a specific region.  I'm looking forward to a loco moco.

Since you won Iron Chef, you've become a TV star.  Do you do much cooking these days?  The television show takes up only about a month a year.  The rest of the time I'm working on menus, doing the creative stuff in the kitchen.

We'll let you go.  You probably need to clear the snow from your driveway.  That's one of good parts about being on TV.  I'll wash dishes or clean a grease trap in a restaurant, but I no longer mow lawns or shovel snow.

For tickets to the Celebrity Chef Tour Gala, click here.  For the Mauna Lani Hotel & Bungalows, (800) 367-2323 or click here.

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