Destiny seems to have played a role in Michael Symon's journey to the kitchen and to the top of the national food scene.
Destiny seems to have played a role in Michael Symon's journey to the kitchen and to the top of the national food scene. As an 11th grade wrestler at St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, Michael broke his arm while practicing for a meet. Bored, unable to compete and looking for college money, the 16-year-old took a part time job at Gepetto's Ribs as a cook. His affinity for the culinary challenge was realized and this athlete decided he loved to cook.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1990, Michael worked at Player's, a casual Mediterranean restaurant on Cleveland's West Side, for two years. In the midst of Cleveland's developing restaurant scene, Piccolo Mondo opened and soon Michael was identified as its creative energy. It wasn't long before Symon was pairing ahi-tuna with seaweed salad. People came.
A few years later, Michael was lured to the chic and intimate Caxton Cafe in the new Gateway District. The word on the street was that he was the "cutting edge" chef in Cleveland. His signature three-cheese macaroni with chicken was born.
In 1996, Michael was ready to open his own restaurant. He partnered with future wife, Liz Shanahan, and the dream to create Lola was underway. The 60-seat space just west of downtown Cleveland opened in February 1997 to glowing reviews. To complement Michael's menu, wife and partner Liz brought an unpretentious elegance and unique wine selection from lesser-known boutique vineyards that made Lola Cleveland's destination of the year.
Quickly garnering a host of awards, Symon was named a national "rising star" for 1997 by Restaurant Hospitality magazine, Best Restaurant and Chef in Northeast Ohio by Northern Ohio Live magazine, and one of the Ten Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine in 1998.
Never one to sit still, Michael took his show on the road to the Aspen Food and Wine Festival and to the Harvest for Hunger benefit in Sonoma, California in July 2000. He plans to continue to improve Lola, saying, "Every day I see ten things we could be doing better." You'll find no complaints from Clevelanders--they're just glad he's staying.
Iron Chef America Profile:
From: Cleveland, Ohio
Restaurants: Lola and Lolita in Cleveland and Parea in New York City
Cuisine: Farm driven American
Interests: Motorcycles, golf, gardening and football
Ideal secret ingredient: A whole hog
Culinary inspirations: Jonathan Waxman and farmers
Ideal judge: A bunch of chefs
Culinary secret weapon: Passion!
Favorite restaurant: Babbo, in New York City
Favorite food: My mom's
Food you won’t go near: Tofu really has no place in my kitchen
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Duck testicles
Favorite food destination: Italy, Greece and New York City
Alternative dream job: Farmer