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January 19, 2008


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you are a man after my own heart. in this modern age of convenience and schizophrenia it's so great to see a love for the work that you do, and a driving passion that keeps you true to the trade.

god bless and good work.



That is true. We forget the cost in order to bask in the glory.

JoP in Omaha

Interesting post, Chef Symon. It brings to mind things I've read (in Ruhlman's The Reach of a Chef, I think) about some culinary students saying they're there because they want to do a cooking show on TV, apparently with little understanding of the unliklihood that it will ever happen or of how grueling it is to work in a kitchen.

I'm curious to see where your career path takes you now. Via Ruhlman, I have some idea of your early years in cooking. You previously did a series for FN (which I haven't seen, wish they'd run it again). Lola and Lolita have carried on. And now you also have the Iron Chef gig. (It was fascinating to watch you on NIC, BTW, to see your passion for cooking in action.) So, what will come next, I wonder? Like you, no doubt, I can't wait to see.

JoP in Omaha
(who wishes I were a Clevelander so I could hang out at Lola and take classes with you. I'd be at every one! The "Comfort Food" class is particularly intriguing to me. I'd love to know your take on comfort food.)

Paul DeLuca

"Do what you love and the rest will follow"...probably one of the best pieces of career advice anyone could get. It's obvious that you do what you do because you love it and that accounts for no small portion of the success you've earned. I think it's easy for the uninitiated to underestimate the amount of work required to reach the top of any profession. Those that reach the top and stay there don't rest on their laurels because they know there's always more to learn. It's the mindset that separates the true tradesman from those possessing mere rudimentary skills.

Matt G


It would be really interesting to see the timeline of what you've had to go through to get where you are. Interests developing as a kid, school, first jobs, restaurants, tv invitations, etc. I think that would give some of your "what's it like to be a celebrity" questioners a good point of view on what it takes to get there.

On a separate note, I was able to talk some folks into taking clients to Lola on E 4th last Monday. I missed the National Championship game to eat there - and it could not have been more worth it! I sampled multiple appetizers and went for the pork with Lola fries for dinner. I'm drooling now just thinking about it. (I was so impressed, I threw a quick post on my blog about it - like you need the extra links).

Thank you for putting together such a terrific menu! The out-of-town clients were seriously impressed (east coasters were thrilled with the Char in particular). It put a great impression of the city's cultural side together as well.

Can't wait to get back. Thanks again!

Matt G

Chef Chuck

As a former culinary school instructor, I could not agree with you more. Rooted for you when you were on the Next Iron Chef, have rooted for you on the battles that I have seen, and will eventually make a trip to your neck of the woods to visit your place.

If you are ever in the Caribbean, look me up, the beer is on me.


In most cases - cook comes before chef and chef comes way before celebrity. There are a couple of shows on Food Network where you can tell that the host hasn't worked their way up (Giada?) but that is the rare exception.

Michael - keep it up - your passion comes through the tv, through yr food and through Cleveland!

alex oni

i most certainly love those 72 hour work weeks, fired gms, burns, scraps, cuts, bruises, beat downs, clogs to the head, it's all crazy but all good. nothing though compares to the seduction of complete chaos going on all around and the seduction of a gorgeous plate of food being created by yourself. i've had my doubts in the past but i don't think i could ever give up cooking if i wanted too.


I love to cook. However, four years of working in institutional kitchens while at college, doing every job one could fathom showed me how difficult it is to work a kitchen and get out meals.

You're quite right to keep your head in the right place about this newfound fame and glory; especially since you been doing the same thing for years and with no accolades. Working in a kitchen is a tough way to make a buck.

Jack McDavid, a chef in my city, once said to me that for two years, "I walked on water, now it's business as usual."

Fame is fleeting and I am happy to see you are grounded and reveling in the moment, but not forgetting your first love which is to cook and knock out meals with a bunch of knaves, rogues and blackguards, who sacrifice everything working the line for their chef.

Red Beans and Ricely Yours,



Thanks for the perspective. Do you think that it's different now for younger cooks just starting out? The "screaming, crazy man" seems to be more the oddity than the norm, and with lawsuits everywhere, other harrassment seems to have declined as well. Is this good or bad for the food industry in your opinion? Is the "trial by fire" a necessary part of becoming a great chef?

PS - my offer to proofread your blog still stands.


Looks like my son is on the right track. Becoming a Chef is hard work and being the best he can be is his goal.

Promised him the *Live to Cook* t-shirts for Christmas. Haven't seen them offered yet. Can you give us a status report. I know there's lots out in cyberland wanting them too!

Son is actually planning a trip to check out Lola's! You've definitely made an impression on him.


So.... what did you do to the dishwasher?


Tom T.

Great advice, for any profession.

Also wanted to say that I had the opportunity to experience Lola earlier this month and have to say, it was like a trip to Disney World. Really, my wife and I gave in and just let our waiter direct us, and we were not disappointed.

We tried the beefcheeks pierogis -- unbelievable. I had the rabbit -- sooooooo good. We'll be back, for certain. Had the chance to spy you, too, making your way through the tables. Speaking of celebrity, it had the air of Spago. (Though my goulash at Spago didn't hold a candle to the rabbit.)

Now that the marketing director of Octane Cafe, just down the block from Lola, is one of the new American Gladiators, E. 4th Street is become the Rodeo Drive of Cleveland -- just with less shopping.

Oh! Just to be a name dropper, waaaaaaayyyyyyy back in the day, I was a production assistant on a low budget video game movie called "Double Dragon," starring Mark Dacascos. I had the opportunity to drive him to the dentist to get a cavitiy filled. Really nice guy. I'm sure he wouldn't remember me -- at all -- but tell him I said hi!


Very interesting post, Iron Chef. It really spoke to me. I used to want to be a "celebrity chef" - y'mean I can be rich and famous and well known and everything and all I have to do is COOK!?! But now I have realized what being a chef is all about, and you've helped me on that journey. After watching The Next Iron Chef, it was sealed - I don't give a care about stardom now. I want to work for a really good chef, no, a great chef, someday, and I don't care if I'm never an executive chef! I just want to be in the environment, and learn from the best, and be mentored. I'd be happy washing your dishes any day, Chef, and I mean it. My friend Melanie and I spend a lot of our emails talking about chefs, a lot of the time you. You're a great inspiration to both of us. (Even though Melanie wants to be an actress, not a chef.) I know, being a teen, some people may not consider me capable of making a decision that I'm going to pursue a certain career, especially one as labor intensive and tiring as a chef. I've never really been super tough, or had a lot of endurance, but I'm willing to learn, push myself to the limits and prove myself. Maybe someday you'll be reading about me - or I will be an Iron Chef. It might be extremely unlikely, but I'm shooting for the stars and willing to push the envelope.

I hope you sucker punched that cook right back! I read in Reach of a Chef that a chef chased Thomas Keller around the kitchen with a knife once. It happens to the best I guess (but really, is it that common?!?)

Catherine, 13


Hey Michael, or Sir Chef Michael! Congrats baby cakes, I am so proud of you!

Chef A.

Good post,I worry about kids who go to Culinary School with no clue as to how hard it really is.Why do we do it? we're nuts...basically,who else volunteers for the hours,abuse to our bodies and usually no social life.We also just can't stay away from the "pretty plates"new pots and pans etc.I'm 55 and still working.Not as hard mind you,we do get some perks,but I worked my butt off to get here.I am very proud that you are representing Cleveland as an honest ,hard working chef!


This was a fantastic post and much appreciated in my neck of the woods. Thanks for keeping it real. I hope it never stops being a passion...warts and all, it is a glorious gift to be in love with what you do.

Now about that pie...*grin*


I think it's also important to mention that the reality of being a cook and eventually a chef is no where near the setting of culinary school. In school there's 18-20 people doing the work of 4-5, there's tons of down time because you're only prepping for 100 covers, and if you screw up, yes your grade drops, but you don't usually have to deal with the pissed off customer who wants her chicken done without tomatoes, but add basil and LIGHT on the sauce.

Love your work though, and since I have family in Cleveland, I hope to make it to Lolita sometime. (I'm a broke college student so Lola's a bit out of budget right now)


Chef Symon, as an Ohio native (Go Canton McKinley Bulldogs!) I was so happy and proud to see you win the Iron Chef competition. Ohio has been the punch line to so many jokes, and what you've done to elevate Cleveland and the state with your success is greatly appreciated. Keep cooking and keeping it real!



Your recent post sounds like serving in the Army. Truth be told: it is the battle you remember and relish more than anything else.

And, the cooks in the Army work the longest hours.

K.P. (kitchen police) is when everyone had to sweat in the mess hall. The best mess Sergeants could cook for thousands and still add creative taste to a bland menu.

O.K., Chief Chef, time to log out. Make sure the help, or the next Iron Chef, doesn't get your scalp :*)



i can't find pork cheeks!!!!

i am planning on making your chili recipe from the food and wine article for the super bowl and want to make the cheek recipe (not the pork shoulder)...but can't find pork cheeks...tried the west side market and my contacts at the farmer's market....

where can i find pork cheeks in cleveland?

happy weekend!



Michael - Made your crab tater tot recipe as an appetizer for a friend's baby shower yesterday....they were freaking awesome!! People kept asking where I bought them and were blown away to find out they were homemade. Made your ancho chile (cocktail) sauce for another dish - again it received rave reviews. I was amazed by the simplicity of the recipes. Keep the recipes coming!!

Definitely planning a side trip to Lola next time I visit home (Dayton)!


As a Former server at Michealangelos and current first year aprentice I can testify that the glory is asorbed by the front of the house in generaly higher wages and fewer hours. My glory comes in Puting out great food.


Ski….. take a look at this show. I like how there some good cooking, good company (interesting people/ chefs), cool spots, and good camera work. You could rock this format..

Mix in a little education though…. Maybe do like a take home chef deal with celebrities and have them prepare a dinner for 6 or 8. then sit down with them for dinner / conversation.


send pics of the pup!

Mark Boxshus

Bravo, Michael. It's so refreshing to hear from a "celebrity" chef who has actually earned his cuts, burns, ego bashings and eventual survival and triumph in the kitchen. Too many of today's celebrity chefs and bloggers are nothing more than a lot of fluff and the end result of clever marketing. I too have walked the walk, and talked the talk, and can appreciate the blood, sweat and tears you've shed to reach your much deserved celebrity status. Way to go. You've earned it...............the old fashioned way!

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