melting pot

Review: Heat Seekers

I have been waiting for the premiere of Heat Seekers for months.  Like most food TV fans I have enjoyed Aaron Sanchez all the way back to his days on Melting Pot.  Roger Mooking is still an unknown entity to most Americans but that should change soon.  Here is how Food Network describes their newest food/travel series:

For chefs Aarón Sanchez and Roger Mooking, Heat Seekers is a tongue-testing odyssey to discover the most deliciously spicy food across the country — and to figure out why these dishes are so fun to eat. From Los Angeles and Santa Fe to Miami and New Orleans, the dynamic duo discovers the secrets of spicy dishes of all kinds — from Mexican to Korean to Indian cuisine — and then subjects themselves to a test of who can handle the heat. Indulging in spicy ceviche and flaming-hot cocktails, Roger and Aarón put their taste buds to the test, and the results are either tears of laughter or tears of pain — usually both.

Mooking and Sanchez Heat SeekersSanchez (Centrico in New York City) is his usual charming, energetic self.  The same attitude that has made him a fan favorite from his other shows like Next Iron Chef, Chopped and Chefs vs. City transfers well to Heat Seekers.  Since his knowledge of food goes well beyond just Latin flavors his placement on this show was a no-brainer.

Mooking (Kultura Social Dining and Nyood Restaurant in Toronto) is the host of Everyday Exotic which airs both on Food Network Canada and the Cooking Channel.  For my money Everyday Exotic is the best stand-and-stir on the air today.  His knowledge of spices and ingredients are born from being a third generation chef and his multicultural background which includes ancestry from the Caribbean to the Far East.  America, get ready for one very talented and charismatic cat.

This show highlights the best in food that has spice and presents it with two passionate and credible hosts.  Mooking and Sanchez have a great chemistry that makes you wish you could join them on one of their road trips.

Or at least it makes me want to join them anyway.  What do you say, Aaron and Roger – shall we meet in Nashville for a little Prince’s Hot Chicken?

Heat Seekers airs Fridays at 10/9 Central on the Food Network.  Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Roger Mooking HERE.

Review: Cook Like an Iron Chef with Michael Symon

Cook Like an Iron Chef with Michael Symon

I finally got a little more quality time with the Cooking Channel so I am attempting to review several of the shows I have not seen.  This time around Cook Like an Iron Chef.

I really dig Michael Symon’s cooking.  I enjoyed he and Wayne Harley Brackman together on the old Melting Pot show from Food Network’s adolescent days.  I like his performance on Next Iron Chef and the year he replaced Robert Irvine on Dinner: Impossible but it is on Iron Chef America that I have become a serious Symon fan.

Do you know that Symon has by far the best winning percentage of any established Iron Chef?  He’s good for a win somewhere around 80% of the time.  That’s impressive.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Symon last year and in that interview you get a glimpse of his creative process (HERE) but on Cook Like an Iron Chef you get a full blown look.  From the Cooking Channel web site:

Iron Chef Mike Symon is breaking out of Kitchen Stadium to share his creative process and techniques for turning your favorite secret ingredients into unique, daring and delicious food. Chef Symon arms you with an arsenal of dishes that deliver perfect 10’s for taste, presentation and creativity to help you do battle for the discerning judges at your own kitchen table.

The set is very cool with Iron Chef knives all over the walls and even two sous chefs (what’s that all about and more to the point – where do I apply?).  The stainless steel and heavy metal look of the set matches Symon’s shaved dome and tattooed sleeves perfectly.  The “offal” T-shirt was a nice touch and something that is close to my heart.

Cook Like an Iron Chef is a show for advanced cooks who already know how to use a knife and are familiar with professional lingo.  It is exactly what I look for in a stand-and-stir show.  It airs Thursdays at 10pm ET on the Cooking Channel.

7 Questions with Chef Michael Symon

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

When the Food Network first went online back in 1993 the talent was made up mostly of chefs who lived within a cab ride of Chelsea Market.  After a few years the network got it’s sea legs and began to recruit talent from around the country.

For a few years the network aired a show called Melting Pot.  It was an interesting idea, a daily show but with a rotation of chef/hosts.  The episodes were themed towards various immigrant cuisines that helped shape the American palate – Caribbean/Gula, Mediterranean, Asian, etc.  There was quite a stable of talented chefs, then no-names like the adorable Cheryl Smith and a fashion model named Padma Lakshmi.

The Mediterranean show was hosted by Rocco DiSpirito who fruitlessly flirted with co-host Cat Cora while the Eastern European show featured a chef Bobby Flay has called one of the great pastry chefs in the country, Wayne Harley Brachman.  His co-host was a shaved headed, soul patch wearing Cleveland chef with a laugh straight out of a mad scientist’s laboratory named Michael Symon.  When Melting Pot left the airwaves many of the cheflebrities went back to their restaurants and regained their anonymity.  Symon was, it appeared, destined to follow this path.

Cleveland was hardly considered a culinary hot spot but Simon’s Lola changed that the moment he and wife Liz opened the doors back in 1997.  That same year, Symon was named a “Rising Star” chef by Restaurant Hospitality magazine.  A year later Food & Wine listed him as one of the “Ten Best New Chefs in America.”  In 2005 he returned to Food Network as a challenger on the hit series Iron Chef: America (ICA).

Though Symon was defeated by Iron Chef Morimoto, the battle was a classic.  Soon Symon’s star outgrew Lola’s seating capacity and he relocated to a downtown address.  But refusing to abandon the Tremont neighborhood that had so embraced him, he opened the provocatively named Lolita in the old Lola space.  This loyalty makes Symon different from the run of the mill celebrity chef.

When Mario Batali wanted to scale back his presence on ICA the Food Network was in a pickle.  Taking a cue from Bravo’s success with Top Chef (with former Melting Pot host Padma Lakshmi), they came up with The Next Iron Chef, a culinary competition where the winner would become a permanent Iron Chef.

The Next Iron Chef would not pit “up and comers” but rather would feature celebrated chefs like Traci Des Jardins, Chris Constantino and former Melting Pot alum Aarón Sanchez.  Symon would also compete.  After boldly proclaiming that he would be around until the end, he almost went home after the first challenge.  The close-call motivated him and as predicted he was in fact there until the end beating out New Orleans’ Chef John Besh to become The Next Iron Chef.

The win was big – mushroom cloud big.  Symon went from being a regional culinary hero worthy of national attention to becoming a genuine national celebrity.  Once America got a taste of his creativity they couldn’t get enough of it.  Symon even took over the reigns of the popular Dinner: Impossible while embattled host Robert Irvine ironed out a few issues.  In his very first episode at the helm Symon created a dish that has spawned a national craze, chocolate covered bacon.

Not everything has been a victory for Cleveland’s finest.  In 2007 Symon forayed into the fickle New York market with Parea which sported only luke warm reviews.  More than one snooty Manhattanite bantered that Symon wasn’t ready for New York.  It’s now 2010 and it seems every restaurant in the Big Apple features roasted pork belly and chocolate covered bacon.  Apparently it was New York that needed to catch up to Michael Symon.

Today Symon has a five restaurant empire adding Michael Symon’s Roast in Detroit, Michael Symon’s B-Spot in Woodmere, OH and Bar Symon located in Avon Lake, Ohio.  More TV appearances followed with guest spots on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, FoodNation with Bobby Flay and The View to name a few and a book with fellow Cleveland culinary personality Michael Ruhlman (with forward by Bobby Flay).  But it is on ICA that Symon has cemented his reputation as the consummate champion with a staggering winning percentage of nearly 85%, the best among Iron Chefs with more than five battles.

The future looks bright as well.  Michael Symon’s “Cook Like An Iron Chef” premieres in July on The Cooking Channel and he is set to open a new restaurant in the Cleveland area at the end of May.

Recently, Michael Symon took time out of his busy schedule to answer 7 Questions:

1. How old were you when you first started to cook?

Michael Symon: Always cooked, cooked with my family while growing up.   I was around seven, cooking with my mom – 15 in a restaurant.

2. When did you decide that you could make food your career?

MS: In high school.  Fell in love with the biz immediately, loved making people happy with food.

3. Which chefs have influenced you the most?

MS: Bobby Flay, Fergus Henderson, Marc Shary, Carl Quagliata and Jonathan Waxman.

4. If you hadn’t followed this career path, what other career could you see yourself in?

MS: Architect, farmer or working with kids.

5. What’s the highlight of your career so far?

MS: Winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef Great Lakes Region 2009.  Food and Wine Best New Chefs 1998. . . it changed my life forever.

6. What aspect of your professional life do you enjoy the most?

MS: Getting to work with my wife, Liz.  The satisfaction of creating new dishes.

7. What’s next for Chef Michael?

MS: One day at a time.  The sky’s the limit.

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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