Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I've started and stopped this post twice now, but I figure I might as well write what I think, right? I mean, the stakes are pretty low when it comes to this little blog.

Let me begin by saying, in all sincerity, that I think Michael Symon is an impressive figure and I love the local guy makes good story every single time it happens. Symon, as word has leaked out today, is the latest winner of the James Beard Foundation's Great Lakes Best Chef Award. I know from my grad school years when I did restaurant writing and edited an online wine & food magazine that any award from the Beard folks is about as good as it gets. It is a big thing for Symon - and for Cleveland - that he won it, and a testament to his career thus far (which has many many more years and accomplishments left to go).

However (and, of course, given my curmudgeonly self there must be a 'however'), I suppose it stretches my definition of best chef. I'm not a chef, and nowhere near as expert as the folks who give out these awards (not even in the same universe). But in the past almost-two years I've lived in Cleveland, I've enjoyed delicious meals at Symon's restaurant multiple times, yet never once has he been in the kitchen. And, if we are all being honest, aren't Lola and Lolita - good as they may be - kind of old news here by now? They are still turning out excellence on the plate, but if we are looking for excitement in Cleveland, there are other, better places to look.

Really, hasn't Symon been a celebrity chef this past year, with the new tv show and the Iron Chef victory and such? I'm not knocking it, but there are also some bad-ass folks that are still in their home kitchen day to day. To me, this seems a little like giving Emeril Best New Orleans chef award (though not so extreme) or Tony Bourdain a Best Chef in New York award (not definitely not so extreme). Both Emeril and Tony are chefs, certainly, but no longer at the intimate level I associate with the profession. (Of course, this association itself may be why I'm wondering about this award.) If we want to award celebrity chefs (which *a* are celebrities because they deserve it and *b* very much so still chefs, even if not limited to the region the Beard folks hold them up to represent), shouldn't there just be a category for them as well?

Oh well, just me thinking out loud. It is just that this reminds me a little of when Denzel won an Oscar for Training Day, when in reality he was winning it because he was screwed in previous years. And I looooooove Denzel - second perhaps only to Kevin Costner. To tie the metaphor back, Symon should have won a few years back, before he blew up, but giving the award now that he is opening restaurants all over the place and spending major chunks of time in front of the cameras strikes me enough to make me say, "hmmmm." (Hence the title of this post.)

Seriously, though, the award is an honor, and congratulations go out to Symon and all the folks around him who complete his team. I'm sure I'll get a nasty or challenging email or three from this, as has become the norm any time I voice my opinion on the downtown culinary scene, so fire away. Just do us both a favor and re-read carefully what I've written here before sending some e-missile accusing me of hating on Symon or Cleveland or being ill-informed or whatever. Being a Cleveland booster doesn't mean one has to be a non-critical thinking homer.

No comments: