michael symon: live to cook

MSApril of last year we went to Sonoma and San Francisco for the week. Like every trip I take, I spend a fair amount of time researching where to eat. For this trip, I e-mailed Michael Symon to inquire about his favorite places since I remembered reading he just returned from the Bay area. He quickly responded with not only his suggestions, but his friend’s as well, fellow chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto. We actually ended up at Incanto one night, and to our surprise (more like complete shock), the sever brought out foie gras and bacon on toast with strawberry-rhubarb jam topped with trotter for us to start our meal. As she set the dish down she said, ‘Michael Symon welcomes you to San Francisco.’ I still can’t believe it – Michael Symon not only took the time to share restaurant suggestions with me and call around for more, but extended this incredibly kind and thoughtful gesture. When I first started this blog I sent out an e-mail to a bunch of chefs looking to do Q&A’s -something I thought would be fun to explore and was curious to see who would respond. Michael Symon was the first (he responded with answers in 15 minutes). And he barely knew me.  And when my sister was securing items to be raffled to help raise money for one of her coworker’s son’s who had cancer, Symon again was the first to respond to my e-mail and generously donated. These are just a few examples of the encounters I’ve had with him.  You all know that Symon is a great chef. I’d also like you to know that he’s even a better person.

Whenever we bump into him or his wife, Liz, they treat us as if we’ve known them forever. They are genuine, funny and the perfect representation for our city. I’m thankful that authoring this blog has given me the opportunity to get know so many wonderful people, including the Symons.

As most of us know by now, chef Symon’s first cookbook, Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock your Kitchen, comes out November 3. Courtesy of the publisher, I’ve been given two copies of the book, one for me and one to giveaway.

As soon as I opened the package, I started perusing the book and all its beautiful photography. I still haven’t put it down. It’s filled with dishes from Lola and Lolita as well as meals he makes with his family. And there are stories – lots of stories with history. And information, really good information that’s geared to make us all better in the kitchen. My husband and I plan to cook our way through every page of this book and hopefully become better homecooks because of it.

Symon’s cookbook is a true Cleveland representation with contributions from Heidi Robb and Michael and Donna Ruhlman. You can’t not be excited for Michael. We have all cheered him on, on both the local and national stage, and supported him since Lola first opened in 1997. He’s one of us.

If you’d like the other copy, just tell me your favorite part of the pig to cook with and why. I’ll pick a winner on Thursday. Happy reading and eating.

56 Comments

  1. David T (@ONUMello)
    Posted October 30, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Pork belly, because it is so versatile. It’s used, of course, for bacon (which I feel can be a positive addition to >75% of dishes/other foods out there) but also traditional Chinese sweet & sour pork

  2. Posted October 30, 2009 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Got to be the baby back rib, i think the reason for that is that it reminds me of family and home. Ribs in general were something that as a child I loved to eat and because of that I remember weekends during the summer spent in front of the grill cooking the ribs for hours till they were tender and juicy all the while playing catch with my brother and dad in the backyard as the smell of the ribs wafting towards us.

  3. DW
    Posted October 31, 2009 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    Is this a trick question? I don’t think there’s a bad part of a pig to prepare. I guess it might be easier to name my least favorite part of the pig to cook (ham) but even that is delicious when it comes from a quality hog.

    I just ordered a whole Berkshire hog to split with one of my friends from Bluebird Meadows. I’ve tried many local Berkshire cuts of meat and Bluebird Meadows is hands down the best. I highly recommend checking them out. They sell at Crocker Park Farmers Market or I’d be happy to pass their contact info on to

    My favorite parts of the pig to cook are below in no particular order.

    1. Bacon / Belly – Enough said. I can’t wait to get the belly from my hog to cure my own bacon!

    2. Bone in Chops – Simply seasoned with salt & pepper and grilled over lump charcoal. Doesn’t get much than this cut for me!

    3. Ribs – I’ve only recently begun experimenting with ribs. Pretty simple to make, but definitely a time consuming process to make them right. I like to rub them down with my homemade BBQ rub and smoke them low & slow (4-6 hours). Half way through I like to baste them with a mop sauce consisting of apple juice (or cider) and some other spices.

    4. Tenderloin – Definitely not my favorite cut, but this versatile cut is great to prepare a quick meal during the week when there’s not time for an elaborate meal. It really takes on the flavor of whatever you marinare/rub/etc on it. My personal favorite preps are lightly marinated in olive oil, rosemary, garlic, salt & pepper or rubbed down with my homemade BBQ rub and grilled over lump charcoal.

    5. Shoulder / Butt – Probably my personal favorite to prepare, definitely a labor of love. I love to smoke a nice, big Berkshire butt for 14+ hours (depending on the size). Start off by making my own spice rub by grinding many different kinds of dried chilis + many of spices to create the perfect rub. Then smoke it low and slow over a combination of apple, oak, and hickory wood. This versatile cut is also great for braising in the dutch oven and turning into pork tacos.

    I am so hungry now, thanks for the great topic to write about! I can’t imagine what Symon’s book would inspire me to do with my pig!

  4. Posted October 31, 2009 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    All parts are great — here’s the most original one I’ve done recently. We had purchased some jamón serrano for a salmorejo garnish. And of course any good cured ham is delicious straight, with some bread and cheese. The ‘cooking with’ part came in when we made a quick pizza with pesto, jamón and parmesan. The quick high-heat cooking rendered some of the delicious cured flavor everywhere and it was one of the best pizzas we’ve made.

  5. Angela
    Posted October 31, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I love a nice slow cooked pork shoulder because I have fond memories of my mom roasting them for us when we were young. When slow cooked, its so tender and juicy, which is all that i could ask for in a piece of meat!

  6. Posted October 31, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Pork Belly – I’m chinese so i like to do it the asian way—braised slowly with soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Eat it with a bowl of rice and mustard greens and i’m set.

    Shoulder/Butt—Winter time favorite. Thrown in the oven and braised for hours. Tastes like a cozy Sunday snow-filled night.

  7. Tom
    Posted October 31, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Hmm,
    I’d have to say Berkshire chops with pickled chilis, like michael serves at Lola…yum.
    And second would be skin. Great in sauce.

  8. Kimberly
    Posted November 1, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    pork belly…you can’t go wrong! :)

  9. Sara
    Posted November 1, 2009 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I like the slow-cooked pulled-pork barbeque sort of meal…..usually shoulder or butt I think. It just falls apart and is so juicy! Some good cole slaw on the side…tastes like summertime and cookouts. Yum.

  10. Posted November 1, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    My favorite part of a pig to make is the pork loin.

    I remember the first meal my wife and I cooked together, back when we were dating, was a roasted pork loin. We had a great time making this dish, and I ended up in the hospital with 3 stiches in my hand, because I put a knife she bought me through my hand as I was carving it.

    To this day, everytime we have the dish, my wife reminds me of that night.

  11. Posted November 1, 2009 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    My mom has a killer roast pork tenderloin recipe: she starts by sautéing some diced apples, diced onions and sauerkraut in butter. She then takes the mix and spreads it along the bottom of a roasting pan, which she then puts a tenderloin on top. That gets seasoned it with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. She roasts it for 90 minutes and serves it with home made spatzle. Nothing better on a cold Cleveland evening.

    I recently met Michael Symon at a fundraiser for my work – just a total gentleman. He is indeed a great representation of our city.

  12. Drew
    Posted November 1, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    BACON.

    There is nothing better on a late Summer day than a simple sandwich made with thick sliced bacon, tomato, lettuce, and homemade mayo. The simplest things in life are sometimes the best.

  13. Posted November 1, 2009 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Pork Butt or Pork Shoulder. I love me some pulled pork BBQ

  14. Posted November 1, 2009 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, I haven’t found a pig part I don’t like. Growing up, every year for my birthday I requested a big ham dinner. More recently (as in two weeks ago), I had a Bacon Party! Got to love the pig!!

  15. Beth
    Posted November 1, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Whatever my husband cooks for me! I probably like his butt the best. :)

  16. Andrew
    Posted November 1, 2009 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Currently it has to be the ham hock. Fall and winter mean soups and stews in our house and the ham hock is the gateway to countless pork flavored dishes.

    My favorite thing to do currently is to chop the meat after making stock. I like dress it with a homemade BBQ sauce and pickles to make a sandwich while my soup cooks.

  17. Darlene
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Definitely the pork butt. Roasted, pulled, and served with a spicy sweet BBQ sauce! Perfect summer meal!

  18. Posted November 2, 2009 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Something about roasted pork shoulder tastes amazing in the cold months.

    I also like making pork tenderloin with roasted apples and fennel.

  19. Tom
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    from the rooter to the tooter, I love it all!!

  20. Matthew
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Pork Butt

    Rubbed & smoked over charcoal and hickory wood at 200°F-225°F for apx. 14-16 hours.

    The combination of the crusty outer bark, the smoky meat flavoring, the rendering of the fat leaving a juicy, flavorful center makes this time consuming cook well worth it.

    To perfect this gift from the Pork Heavens, shred it, top it on a freshly grilled kaiser roll with vinegar based cole slaw and smother it with a Carolina style BBQ sauce.

  21. Posted November 2, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I have the most experience and delight cooking with the shoulder. We love to cook it SLOWLY – and shred the final result. I use part of the shredded meat with some homemade vinegar-y BBQ sauce on a challah bread roll. The other part is used for carnitas. The sweet, tender meat goes well with freshly made tortillas and a bit of lime and cilantro. Good times!

  22. Posted November 2, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Pork Belly is my favorite – because it’s for bacon, of course!

  23. Posted November 2, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    i’m still sad that i’ve never met him and liz – someday i tell you, someday.

    as for my favorite part of the pig to cook – well that would be bacon. but to eat? that would be pork belly – om nom nom.

    oh, and pick me!

  24. Sara Lang
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t ever actually cooked with pig, I mostly do vegetarian food, but I’m a Clevelander and would love a copy of the book!

  25. Posted November 2, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Mmmmm…bacon!

  26. Chuck Hemann
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    bacon has to be the best thing to cook, though I love me some pork belly.

  27. Kim
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    I love pork shoulder because it reminds me of the stew my Grandmother used to make!

  28. Posted November 2, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    It’s so boring, but the first thing my mom ever taught me to cook was breaded pork chops. So those little buggers will always have a special place in my heart.

  29. Liz Lewis
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Bacon. No question.

  30. Posted November 2, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I have a love-hate relationship with pork, probably a consequence of growing up with a Quaker mother who made pork chops and a Jewish step-dad whose family never quite got over the fact he married a Goy from coastal New Jersey.

    Pork done right has such flavor – rack of pork, kind of a standing rib of porcine pleasure, is probably my favorite; fresh rosemary flavoring the demi-glace, ground pepper crusting the roast. You get the wonderful loin, tender and juicy with just a trace of pink (don’t worry), and the ribs to gnaw on. Serve with either a hoppy beer (such as our own Burning River Pale Ale) or a flavorful red — I like Excelsior Cabernet from South Africa, a bargain priced wine that drinks like a $20 bottle.

  31. Posted November 2, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m lucky that my boyfriend loves to cook — and I LOVE his pork tenderloin!

    So, maybe if I win the cookbook, I can return his food favors. :)

  32. Posted November 2, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    I want my baby back, baby back, baby back ribs. I even made these yesterday. But of course, nothing tops bacon. mmmmm bacon. I’m a food network addict and would love to try some of Michael Symon’s recipes.

  33. Wendy
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Bacon! Try some Firecracker Bacon at your next brunch: rub thick slab bacon with a blend of 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne. Bake on a rack (over a lined cookie sheet) at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes. Ridiculously simple and extraordinarily tasty!

  34. Posted November 2, 2009 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    I would have to say the baby back ribs. However, my reason has nothing to do with me. Slow and low BBQ ribs are my wife’s favorite dish. If I am in the doghouse, I know cooking some ribs will keep me from sleeping on the couch!

  35. Traci
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    pork shoulder slow-cooked for bbq pulled-pork!!

  36. Allison Norris
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t bacon the only real choice? I mean, “everything is better with bacon”, right?

    My 4 y.o. is a self-proclaimed vegetarian AND Bacon eater :) Only meat he will touch.

  37. Posted November 3, 2009 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I love Michael Symon, love Lola and a friend of my boyfriend was an awesome bartender there up until a year or so ago. So, do I want this cookbook? I’d do quite a few things for it but since you only asked for what part of the piggy I love to cook and why, I’ll put the kneepads away.
    Pork tenderloin. Smoked in the Weber grill with Mesquite chips for 3 hours. Every time I make this it disappears almost as soon as I plate it. People who have shunned pork for years will try, “A taste, just a little taste. It smells so good!”
    Also, I was a vegetarian for 6 years. How did my mother snap me out of it? By cooking bacon every single morning when I came home to visit from NYC. Diabolical, that little piggy, simply diabolical (and I don’t mean my Mom, okay maybe just the diabolical part)
    Are you going to the IX food show? Would love to know your thoughts on that.
    Love your site, as well. Thanks for loving Cleveland food as much as I do.
    Sincerely,
    Susie
    Cleveland Heights

  38. Suzie Martens
    Posted November 3, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Since my teenage years I have been exploring the culinary world. I started slowly but my interest has grown considerably in the last few years (I’m in my mid-twenties). As time passed I have learned a great deal but most importantly, I have learned that in the culinary world there is always SO MUCH MORE to learn. I know I have hardly scratched the surface. That being said, I can fairly say that the delicious world of preparing pork is not one I have ventured into but would love to start! That’s why I would like to get Michael Symon’s cookbook. I know there is no better person in Cleveland (or the world?) to introduce me to the delectable world of pork and help me discover my favorie part of the pig to cook.

  39. Posted November 3, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure where it comes from but I like a good chop. 100 ways to win with the porkchop. :)

  40. Christina
    Posted November 3, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I’d have to say my favorite part of the pig to cook is the pork chop. It’s a tricky piece of meat to cook, as it is very easy to overcook and make it tough. I just love the fact that it can be prepared both savory or sweet, depending on my mood. And there is no overnight marination (is that a word?) required, so it’s a quick meal. I have made pork chops with honey & pecans, apples & caramelized sugar, balsamic & pear, thyme & shallots, baked with tomato sauce, you name it. So many things to do with a pork chop, thick or thin, grilled, sauteed, or baked. The versatility is amazing. I must also add that it was incredibly hard for me to pick a favorite part to cook because I am a die hard ribs fan, but there really is only one way I like to cook ribs. The pork chop allows for more creativity, and is therefore my favorite part of the pig to cook :)

  41. BrianC
    Posted November 3, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Pork shoulder or “Boston Butt” seasoned, chopped up and roasted in the oven to make carnitas. The crunchy little bits are redonkulous!

  42. Jeff B.
    Posted November 3, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    The Spare Rib:

    Easy to make good
    Hard to make Great

    Marinated and Spice Rubbed and slow roasted over a wood fire and finished with homemade barbecue sauce. Great because it lets you hang out all day by the fire with good beer and people who share the obsession of cooking

    Hint: use 50/50 mix of mesquite and maple woods

  43. Joe
    Posted November 4, 2009 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Prosciutto
    The Why: My 3 year old daughter and 18 month old son loves eating Prosciutto when I make eggs on Saturday mornings.

    Makes all the clean up and effort to the store more than worth it.

  44. David C.
    Posted November 4, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    My preference would have to be the entire thing as in a 24lbs Whole Suckling Pig.

  45. Posted November 4, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    For cooking – I would have to say sausage. There are so many applications for it, and so many ethnic cuisines in which it fits right in – and so many varieties and flavors. Though, we (my husband and I) ate our Berkshire hog sausage as a simple burger!

    As so many others have said – Bacon is also fun. We made Michael Symon’s Chocolate Covered Bacon for an event we catered last September and it was a big hit.

  46. Posted November 4, 2009 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    It’s good to hear that Michael is such a responsive and supportive person. I am proud that he is from Cleveland. I too don’t think there is a part of the big I don’t enjoy. I love sausage, pork tenderloin and “pork chops and applesauce” :-). And I agree with what almost everyone has said here, “Everything is better with bacon” – from bacon wrapped water chestnuts, which I would never eat by themselves, to chocolate covered bacon. It’s all just GOOD!

  47. Posted November 4, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Wow, my cold is even showing in my writing. I meant to say “part of the pig” ;-)

  48. TJ
    Posted November 4, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Though I’m tempted to say pickled pig’s feet solely because no one said it yet, that would be a lie because that’s seriously nasty.

    Bacon has my vote. It single-handedly made the water chestnut 100 times more popular. And when it’s glazed and coated in crushed pecans, well, that’s hard to argue with.

  49. John
    Posted November 4, 2009 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Without a doubt, pork belly. I get mine from the West Side Market and cure and smoke my own bacon. It comes with the skin on, so I will cut that off and use it in soups or stews (especially good for flavoring chowders). Recently, I started brining the pork belly, seasoning with corriander and peppercorn and smoke it a la pastrami.

  50. craw likes pig
    Posted November 4, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I am torn. Bacon is obvious, but my next favorite is braised pork belly (which is usually made into bacon – the fat just melts in your mouth and is SO tender). Its a ridiculously drawn out process of rubbing it and letting it set for a day (I usually use a cajun mix I make, coriander, cumin and cayenne with some sea salt and pepper), brining it for another day and then initially browning it and then cooking with a cup of wine, tons of garlic and shallots in dutch oven in the oven for 3 hours. spectacular.

  51. John
    Posted November 4, 2009 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    A close second to the belly for me is the cheeks. If you’re ever at a pig roast and they “present” the head at the serving table, take a knife and get under the skin along the jaw. The meat is so fatty and flavorful. Plus you get the added bonus of freaking all the little kids out at the party.

  52. V
    Posted November 5, 2009 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Belly, loin, tenderloin bacon…even jowl ( guancialle, thats wjat spaghetti carbonara is made from ) is very obvious choice …but the most uder used parts can be very delicious if treat it right…pork liver van make delicacies country pate, pigs feet has a lot of natural gelatin is insanely delicious ..trotters..it just takes a lot of skill and knoglige to make it right..pigs head gives us head cheese..[igs tales love it smoked with glass of beer and pumpernickel rye ( just like they eat in some parts of europe )…ears has a nice cruch,,can be braised ..confit ..or added to a headcheese for texture and flavor..pigs blood …blood rice sausage…” Radells ” off e 156 has good ones….hope I boost you appetite..i’m drooling .:-) and not kidding !

  53. Cara
    Posted November 5, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    How about the whole pig, as in a pig roast! That’s my favorite way to enjoy pork!!

  54. Posted November 5, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Wow, Symon would be proud. Lots of love for the hog – and plenty of prep ideas. Congrats to DW as the proud new owner of the cookbook. Buying the whole pig and enjoying every last bit of goodness is some serious pig passion.

  55. Michele
    Posted November 10, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Definitely the bacon! Crisp it up, chop it up and make some delicious chocolates. Bacon & chocolate … like peas in a pod. :)

    Of course, my mom would be disappointed if I didn’t mention her glazed ham we all devour at Christmas.

  56. Posted November 11, 2009 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for providing this insight into what type of a person Michael Symon is. It makes me even happier that I choose to patronize his restaurants knowing that he is a solid, thoughtful, generous human being.

    “He’s one of us” – pretty much sums it up :)

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