Cleveland native Michael Symon holds arguably the most coveted spot in Wine & Food history – back-to-back winner of Burger Bash. His pastrami and salami-laced B Spot burgers earned top nods in 2011 and 2012. Can he repeat? We spoke with the Iron Chef about defending his title, his favorite Festival events and the beauty of barbecue.
Tell us about your plans for the Festival.
I can’t wait. It’s definitely time to get out of the cold. And I never miss a chance to get some Joe’s stone crab and fried chicken. The weekend is packed full of work, but it’s never hard to mix in a bit of fun in South Beach.
You’re the two-time defending Burger Bash winner – talk about pressure!
I’m going for number three, then I’m hanging up the spatula. I said I was going to stop after two then Lee talked me into doing it again this year. It’s like being a great fighter, you always want to go out on top.
You’ve done salami and pastrami – what’s next?
I’m not sure yet, I might go pulled pork. I’ll tell you this, whether we win or lose, I guarantee this will be the best burger of the three.
What are your favorite Festival events?
For obvious reasons, I love the Burger Bash. But I also love the demos. Not only doing them, but getting there early to watch the other chefs. You get to interact with people and they get to interact with you. The greatest gift any of us has been giving is the ability to teach –if you can just teach the crowd one thing, I’m excited. I really focus on teaching a technique and don’t worry about the recipe too much – how to roast a chicken, an easy way to roast fish, grilling and braising.
Tell us about BBQ & the Blues
I love BBQ, it’s on the top of my food chain. I love cooking anything that takes time. You have to wait for the end, it’s almost like a surprise. You sit by the smokers, hang with your friends you have a beer or two and in some cases 12 hours later you have this fantastic juicy piece of meat. BBQ is one of the great gifts to American cuisine – it really sums up American food to me. When I go to BBQ events I always walk around to see who’s got a whole pig going.
How is the South Beach Festival different from the others throughout the country?
None of them are as big of a party as the Miami festival. It’s spring break for chefs. There is this really fantastic party atmosphere that Miami brings. And Lee [Schrager] is a great driver of the bus, he knows what people love. What Lee has done so masterfully is he not only brings celeb chefs, but he brings chefs that the culinary world has known for years but maybe the people at home don’t know. They’re there cooking along with everyone else and getting a lot of kudos that they deserve.