Just three years ago Michael Symon sat where Chefs Marco Canora and Marc Forgione are today, battling for a permanent place on the roster of Iron Chef America. Now he frequently dons his jacket and defends chefly honor in Kitchen Stadium. He also serves as a judge on The Next Iron Chef, hosts Food Network’s Food Feuds and hosts Cook Like an Iron Chef on Cooking Channel. Clearly that long-ago Next Iron Chef winning moment was the end of one battle but the beginning of so much more.
“I went through the competition myself and I know how hard it actually is,” Symon said recently at Food Network’s New York City headquarters. “But you know, I feel that the winner is coming into our club, and we need to protect the club, just like Bobby and Mario and Morimoto did when I came through.”
So this season, Symon has enjoyed food from “some of the greatest chefs in America,” and is sympathetic to the fierceness of the competition, but he’s also clear eyed and critical. From battle to battle, even the smallest details made a difference in which chefs stayed and which went. In the wake of last week’s double elimination, Symon compared dishes from Chef Tsai and Chef Tio with those from the two remaining competitors. “Chef Forgione and Chef Canora’s food was just a little more over the top. And because of the nature of this competition, sometimes you have to go a little over the top to win.”
And once you do, expect to go over the top some more. “My food tends to be very simple and straightforward, and lets the ingredient speak for itself,” he says. “There cannot be enough pressure for me, and the competition cannot be tough enough for me. I thrive on competition.” And apparently, he also thrives on being busy, given not only his duties for all these shows but also his responsibilities with his own restaurants and family.
“I love people, I love food, I love my family,” he says. “My whole world really revolves around those things. I just try to keep it real and take it a day at a time, and cut loose–you know I don’t take anything too seriously.”
In good humor, Symon takes an impromptu challenge: We need an idea of what to make for dinner–or even tonight’s finale, Iron Chef style. So we head downstairs to Chelsea Market. His eyes twinkle at the sight of Dickson’s Farmstand Meats.
Inspired, he bought: two legs and thighs of duck confit, two bratwurst, a smoked ham hock, some spaetzle, cooked sauerkraut, beer mustard and two marrow bones. Then he rattled off what to do.
“Take your marrow bones, your duck confit, your bratwurst, and your ham, and cover it with beer and a little bit of stock. Cook that; warm it up for about 30-45 minutes at a simmer. Meantime, cook your spaetzle separately. When the spaetzle’s done, toss it with the sauerkraut. Your meat will be warm. Scoop some mustard into the beer stock, and stir it in so you have a mustardy broth. Then take all that beautiful, luscious meat, place it on top of your cabbage and kraut, and top it with your mustard sauce.”
Are you up to the challenge? The results are hearty, meaty, lusty, simple, memorable. “Dinner fit for a king,” he says. (Maybe even three or four of them.) No matter who is crowned tonight.
Catch tonight’s finale of The Next Iron Chef at 9 pm/8c on Food Network.
Plus, watch for Chef Symon on Food Feuds (cheesesteak and cheesecake!) on Food Network and Cook Like an Iron Chef (secret ingredient: scallops) on Cooking Channel this Thursday, post feast, at 10 pm/9c.