One of the perks of any writer’s job is to write about his or her passion and talk to those who have a similar passion. Earlier this week, I was honored to talk to Chef Michael Symon, celebrity chef, restaurant owner and a very familiar face on Food Network’s Iron Chef America. He is also a co-host on ABC’s The Chew, which airs every weekday at noon CST on KTUL Channel 8.
Besides everything else he does, he has partnered with KNOB CREEK RYE BOURBON to develop recipes using their fantastic, high quality products.
Having a bit of a crush on the handsome, somewhat hair challenged chef, I was almost weak in the knees at the thought of actually talking to him. So I poured myself a big cup of coffee and readied myself for our interview.
After our initial introduction, I steadied my knees, calmed my quivering voice and proceeded with my questions. He put me at ease immediately and I felt like I was just talking to an old friend.
Jill Meredith: Chef, why does KNOB CREEK work so well in recipes?
Michael Symon: Since I cook with a lot of bold, distinctive flavors, KNOB CREEK gives my recipes a bunch of backbone and a structure that other whiskeys don’t. It holds up to my style of cooking very well. I want my cooking to be balanced and memorable. I want my guests to feel the flavors and react to them.
JM: Which KNOB CREEK product is your favorite and why?
MS: I have to say, I am currently a little smitten with the RYE, both for cocktails and for cooking. Through the summer, the RYE has been my KNOB CREEK of choice. I made a summer cocktail with a little of the KNOB CREEK RYE, a little bit of aperol (an Italian aperitif) and sparkling blood orange juice. That was my go-to summer cocktail. It was quite delicious!
JM: What are some other ways to use KNOB CREEK?
MS: It works really well as a glaze. If you cook down a little citrus juice, add some honey, some KNOB CREEK, a squeeze of lime juice at the end and then brush it on chicken or pork right before it comes off the grill, it really adds a lot of depth.
JM: Do you have some easy dessert recipes using KNOB CREEK?
MS: It makes a fantastic caramel that is delicious with apples. Also, at my casual burger place, B Spot, we make Loaded Milkshakes with vanilla bean ice cream and frozen chunks of apple pie that get blended together and then we finish it with a little KNOB CREEK. Oh my God, it’s outrageous! It’s a super simple adult milkshake for people to make at home. It is really spectacular! I even like a couple of drizzles of the KNOB CREEK itself drizzled over vanilla bean ice cream. You don’t really need the caramel. It is delicious on its own. I have also put it in crème brûlée before. And it’s great in chocolate bread pudding - just add it to the custard and pour it over the bread. It’s unbelievable.
JM: If you could cook a meal for anyone, past or present, who would it be and what would you make using KNOB CREEK products?
MS: It would be my wife, Liz. I know she’s not a celebrity or a president or a rock star, but she’s my favorite person to have dinner with. She loves roasted chicken, so I would probably make her a roasted chicken and then make a KNOB CREEK citrus glaze to brush over it at the end with a little cracked coriander, a nice crisp salad, and that aperol cocktail. To me, that’s the perfect meal. We would sit outside on a nice fall day. That would be perfect.
JM: When you’re cooking with KNOB CREEK (or any alcohol) does most of the alcohol really burn off?
MS: I’ve heard it both ways. It doesn’t all cook off, but probably 95 percent of it does. It’s not something I add to a dish if I’m cooking for my nephews even though the majority of it does cook off. This is especially true if you flambé it. But I don’t necessarily like to burn it off because I like the flavor of it, so I typically like to add it more towards the end. But if you do want to flambé something, you pull the pan off the heat, add a little of the KNOB CREEK and then put it back on the heat. Make sure you keep your hands and head away from it. When it comes back up to temperature, it will flame for a second and then burn out. Just make sure you don’t ever lean directly over the pan. You can see what has happened to my hair (He laughs).
JM: Have you ever used any KNOB CREEK recipes on The Chew?
MS: I made a KNOB CREEK caramel sauce for banana pancakes.
JM: Do you enjoy doing The Chew? It looks like you guys have a lot of fun.
MS: I’ve never had more fun doing television. It is an absolute riot every day. We all like each other and spend time together off set and I think that probably comes through on the show.
JM: What is your favorite thing that you have made on the show?
MS: That’s a tough question. We have done almost 500 episodes. (He pauses as he thinks.) I made a porcetta on the show, which is more of a cheffy recipe, but a lot of people responded to it incredibly well and really enjoyed it. I also had a lot of fun making a version of a sloppy Joe called a sloppy Mike during a segment that we do called 5 in 5. We do another segment where I take a childhood favorite and show people how to make it from scratch. We made Nutter Butters. It was my favorite cookie as a kid and I was hell bent on figuring out how to make them.
JM: Any new Food Network shows in the works?
MS: No, not currently; just focusing on The Chew. It takes a good amount of time. For now, that (The Chew), running my restaurants and doing Iron Chef keep me pretty busy.
JM: Who has been your fiercest competitor on Iron Chef America?
MS: Those first five battles I had with Morimoto were pretty epic. Outside of that, I’d have to say the toughest person I ever went against was Mark Vetri.
JM: Oh I know that name. I have heard about his roasted goat. I have never eaten goat before. Does it taste like chicken?
MS: No, it tastes like lamb (He says with a laugh).
JM: Tell me an interesting fact about you that we may not know.
MS: Oh, boy…that’s a hard one. Well, I rarely sleep past 5 a.m. My wife could probably tell you more.
JM: What’s your favorite thing to snack on at home?
MS: Salt and vinegar chips with French onion dip; it’s delicious!
JM: I hear you have a brand new cookbook out; tell me about it.
MS: I’m sure excited about it. It’s the first cookbook that I’ve written that’s not a super cheffy book. The rest of the books I’ve done have been geared more towards young professional chefs or people who take cooking very seriously at home. This book is called 5 in 5. It takes five fresh ingredients that can be cooked in five minutes for under five bucks. It’s based on the segment that I do on The Chew, also called 5 in 5. The premise of the book is to cook from scratch and get good food on the table quickly for an affordable price. Since most people work these days, it’s hard to do that. My mom used to spend eight hours cooking dinner for us, but times have changed. My goal has always been to get more people in the kitchen and to show them that it’s not intimidating and it doesn’t have to be hard to be delicious. In reality, that’s how I cook at home during the week. I want to get something on the table quickly, so I can spend more time enjoying a meal with my wife and talking about the day.
JM: What do you like to cook at home?
MS: I love to make roasted chicken, but I also love Pasta Pomodoro – angel hair pasta with tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, extra virgin oil and Parmesan. It makes me a happy guy.
I so appreciate the time that had talking to this amazing chef and wonderfully personable guy. When the interview was over, I pinched myself and then went to the gym for a nice, long workout. Later that evening, I relaxed with a little KNOB CREEK RYE BOURBON on the rocks.
If you’re interested in finding KNOB CREEK products locally, Aspen Liquor in Broken Arrow carries them.