The Chew star and author of 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners talks to us about de-snobifying wine, why Bourbon pairs with everything and the secret to landing a gig in one of his kitchens.
Wine Enthusiast: What are the biggest shifts in the wine and food scenes since you started?
Michael Symon: Food and wine in general has become less snotty. My wife [Liz Shanahan] is a sommelier. I’ve seen how much it’s changed. At the end of the day, it’s “What do you like?” If you don’t like a Pinot Noir, you’re never going to like it, no matter how elegant or expensive it is, or how much the sommelier tells you that you should like it. There’s an understanding that wine and food both are more about enjoying the experience, and less about the formality. It’s much more fun.
WE: You take a pretty casual approach to cooking on ABC’s The Chew.
MS: Our goal is to make your life easier and more fun. The nature of cooking on television has changed, too. I know for both Batali and myself, 10 years ago, the food we cooked on TV was the food we cooked in our restaurants. The ingredients were hard to get, hard to prepare. You’re not going to come home, after a long day’s work or a long day with the kids, and create something that takes hours to prepare? Now, we cook what I cook for dinne r. It’s affordable, accessible and still fresh and delicious.
WE: Do you see any downsides to the whole celebrity chef thing?
MS: Oh, absolutely. When we went to school—Bobby Flay and Mario Batali and Wolfgang and all of us—it was to learn a craft and a skill. Now, it’s to be on TV. That’s O.K.—it’s different, but it’s O.K. But I warn people when they’re interviewing with me, especially at a place like Lola [Symon’s flagship restaurant in Cleveland]. We say, “If your main goal is to be on TV, I don’t know if you’re ready to handle all that goes on here.” People go to culinary school today for many other reasons than simply to work on the line.
WE: How involved are you with the wine and cocktail selections and pairings at your restaurants?
MS: I work pretty tightly with the wine and cocktail programs. My wife runs the beverage programs, so it’s usually pretty easy to talk to the sommelier about any issues. Usually.
WE: Have you seen an uptick in people ordering cocktails throughout dinner?
MS: Absolutely. I’m a Bourbon drinker, so I generally like a Bourbon or a cocktail while I’m eating. A lot of the foods I do work well with Bourbon. So we try and curate a cocktail menu in such a way, and train our servers, so that if someone says, “Hey, I want to keep drinking mixed drinks through dinner,” they can pair it with the meal they’re having.