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He may say he's "just an old bald guy who loves to cook," but this Iron Chef is one of food-television's biggest personalities.

March 23, 2021
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headshot of Michael Symon with arms crossed
Credit: Courtesy of Michael Symon

An "Iron Chef" champion and former co-host of "The Chew," Michael Symon credits his cooking to his roots. With a Greek-Sicilian mother and a father of Eastern European descent, the Cleveland native grew up on a diet of dumplings and pasta, kielbasa and meatballs, and countless Greek dinners. And when he opened Mabel's BBQ in Cleveland, he drew on his hometown's Eastern European influence, even including his grandfather's haluski (a cabbage and noodle dish) on the menu in place of mac and cheese.

On this episode of Homemade, Symon shares a handful of family stories, from the name his toddler granddaughter gave him to his mother's hilarious reaction to his restaurant's meatballs. Host Martie Duncan speaks with him about inflammation-fighting recipes and whether he'll ever officially battle his buddy, Bobby Flay. Finally, tune in for his top tips for the home cook, including the two small kitchen tools that deserve a place in every kitchen. Listen to this episode on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and everywhere podcasts are available beginning March 24.

About Michael Symon

Michael Symon launched his career as a chef in his native Cleveland. He opened his first restaurant there in 1997 before opening other concepts around the Midwest and Atlantic City, New Jersey. In addition to appearing with Anthony Bourdain on "No Reservations," his television career has included several stints on Food Network, including "The Next Iron Chef," "Iron Chef America," and "Dinner: Impossible." He also co-hosted "The Chew," an Emmy-winning program. He is the author of Fix It with Food, Michael Symon's Playing with Fire, Michael Symon's Carnivore, and Michael Symon's Live to Cook.

Episode Transcript

MARTIE DUNCAN Welcome to Homemade, where we get the stories behind our favorite recipes. I'm Martie Duncan. Today is a nice Greek boy from the CLE with a lot of love for his hometown, his family, and his Cleveland Browns. You probably know him best, and his famous laugh, from "The Chew," his Emmy Award-winning talk show, which we all miss so much.

He's an "Iron Chef" champion as well as an author, and during the lockdown, he has kept us not just entertained but he has kept us sane through his online cooking videos. He really has found a place in our hearts. Y'all help me welcome Chef Michael Symon to Homemade. Thank you so much, chef.

MICHAEL SYMON Hi Martie! How are you? Nice to see you.

MARTIE Nice to see you, too, really see you.

MICHAEL I wish I was in that warm weather with you.

MARTIE Look, I got a big old sweater on. It's not warm. It's cold.

MICHAEL Oh, what is it? When you say cold, what is it?

MARTIE Well, that's true. It's 42, maybe? And raining.

MICHAEL Forty-two, I'd be laying on the beach, 42.

MARTIE You know, I lived in Chicago for a long time, chef. So trust me. I know.

MICHAEL Oh, you know. You know the cold.

MARTIE But I will say the very first time I came to Cleveland, and the day I got there, it was like like 40, and then woke up the next morning, there was snow on the ground and it was like 12.

MICHAEL Yes.

MARTIE So that gave me like a real dose of reality, what Chicago used to be like. That's one thing I want to talk to you about. You love your town, you love your Browns. You love Cleveland. You're just a real hometown boy, just a regular old person who's proud of where you come from and loves everything about your city.

MICHAEL Yeah. You know, born and raised there. My parents still live there. Liz's parents still live there. Kyle was born there. And all my closest, dearest, longest friends are — I've had them since I've been five years old. So it'll always be home to me. You know, I'm in New York more than Cleveland these days because of work and other things. But, Cleveland's always my home.

MARTIE So one big question I have to ask you. What's it like being a granddaddy?

MICHAEL Being a granddaddy is awesome. Abby's actually here today. She's just getting ready to take her little nap. Our son, Kyle, it's his birthday today. So his wife Krista's bringing him out to have a little bit of fun. And we took Abby for the day. She'll sleep over tonight. So, it's a treat. She's two now. And she's a spitfire, I'll tell you that much.

A lot of energy and moves at the speed of light. Like, she is so fast. But she makes me melt. We were laughing about it the other day that she's always with Lizzie, like cruising around, and I'll be in the kitchen cooking, and all of a sudden I'll just like look over, and she'll tilt her head, she's like, "Hey, Pop Pop."

MARTIE I wondered what your — I wondered what your granddaddy name was.

MICHAEL Yeah.

MARTIE So you're Pop Pop.

MICHAEL Pop Pop. Yeah.

MARTIE Oh, that's awesome.

MICHAEL And it's just what she — like I didn't really know what I wanted to be called but she just — Pop Pop, it was. So Pop Pop it is.

MARTIE Pop Pop. Oh, I love it. Well listen, you're really known for being an Iron Chef and all of this over-the-top cooking you do. But really, your cooking all started at home and cooking at home is really what you love to do. Your mom was a great cook.

MICHAEL Yeah.

MARTIE Your Pap was a great cook and your grandmother. Tell me a little bit how you grew up, and then how did that translate to you getting into the food business and becoming a chef?

MICHAEL My mother's Greek and Sicilian. So, obviously, she loves food, loves to cook. Until I was in high school, my mom stayed home. We had a home-cooked meal on the table every night. My Yiayia, her mom is actually from Sicily. And then my Papou, I never met. He passed when my mom was 12. So, my Papou got kicked out of the Greek community when he started dating a Sicilian woman.

MARTIE Oh, my.

MICHAEL So she learned how to — she had an eighth-grade education. She learned how to speak Greek and cook Greek. And then my Papou, I guess, the story is, my Papou invited all his friends over and my Yiayia cooked him this big Greek dinner for all his friends and they accepted them back into the Greek community because she could speak Greek, cook Greek. And so my mom, until her father passed away, was only allowed to speak Greek in the house until my grandfather passed away. So until she was 12, and my Papou passed away. So, she didn't even know she was Italian or Sicilian until after he had passed. I'd say growing up, for me, it was about 60-40, Greek to Sicilian food when my mom cooked.

And then my dad is Eastern European. So my Pap was Eastern European. That's very Cleveland, too, that culture. Like I spent my weekends with my grandparents because my father worked midnights at Ford Motor. So, when I was at my Pap's house, it was more of the pierogi and the kielbasa and the pork, cabbage stews, and things like that. But during the week, it was all Greek and Sicilian food. So I grew up in a little bit of a melting pot family. Those three foods are really the foods that really stuck with me and really influenced the way I cook as a chef.

MARTIE Chef, I remember us talking one time about your Pap's special recipe that he made, that you still make. It's got a funny name. What was it called? Haluski or something like?

MICHAEL Oh, yeah, haluski. So, it's cabbage or noodles. And yeah, exactly. It's a..

MARTIE OK, God, I was afraid I was going to say it wrong. Haluski.

MICHAEL No, like onions, paprika, noodles. Sometimes you put like bacon or ham in it. A lot of other families I saw that would have it, they would use like a like a store-bought wide noodle, almost it's be like a pappardelle kind of noodle.

MARTIE OK.

MICHAEL But Pap used to make these. He called them spaetzle, but they were bigger than spaetzle. It was like a dumpling. Like this big.

MARTIE OK.

MICHAEL That he'd cut into the water. And then he'd fry those up with the onions and the butter and the paprika and, oh my God. It's so good. He'd put cabbage or sauerkraut in it sometimes.

MARTIE Right.

MICHAEL Really, really delicious.

MARTIE Where can we find that recipe? I'm going to make that.

MICHAEL We actually serve 'em. I got a lot of grief from it out of the gate, but then people understood. When we opened Mabel's, our barbeque place, instead of doing mac and cheese that was like my starchy side. Because I wanted to do this very Cleveland-centric barbeque.

MARTIE That potato you got, those Jonathan Waxman's potatoes to this day. I remember those. They were fabulous.

MICHAEL Yeah, those are delicious.

MARTIE It's like one of my favorite things. Yeah, Mabel's is a great barbecue place, y'all. Get over there.

MICHAEL Yeah. It's really taken off. It was kind of a little bit of a history lesson on Cleveland and what I, you know — because if you think of the Eastern European food in the West Side Market, a lot of it is really barbeque based, even though I think people don't intuitively think of that way.

But like, if you think of kielbasa, kielbasa's a smoked sausage, and there's a lot of smoking that goes on in those Eastern European cultures. And, you know, those are always served with mustard. So, it made a lot of sense to me to feature the house-fermented sauerkrauts. I think they play really well with barbeque, especially if you're doing barbeque in Cleveland. I mean, I love Texas barbeque and I love all those different styles of barbeque, but I wanted to do a barbeque that really represented how I grew up.

MARTIE That makes perfect sense. And when everybody when it opens back up and you get a chance to travel, y'all get out to Cleveland and support in the restaurants there and go to the Rock Hall and do all of it.

OK, so we're still cooking at home. Thank you for all those cooking classes and shows on Instagram and on social media during the lockdown. Those, like, saved us, I think.

MICHAEL They saved me too, Martie. I got to be honest with you, they're very therapeutic for me. I started working in restaurants when I was 13, so I've been cooking for people for, you know, 38 years. So when all the restaurants closed, I'm like, "What do I do now! I don't know what to do!"

MICHAEL So, you know, I cook. That's what I do, you know? So to do those classes, those daily dinners for people, people are grateful, but I'm telling you, mentally, it saved me, too.

MARTIE I can only imagine because for me, you know, I don't cook every day in a restaurant like you guys, but I do a lot of food events and then a lot of other events, too. And of course, just like restaurants, events were shut down.

MICHAEL Yeah.

MARTIE And I'm like, "What the heck am I going to do now?"

MICHAEL Yeah.

MARTIE And luckily we got the podcast, and we had a lot of fun. Anyway, what was the number one dish of all those cooking dinners and Michael Symon dinners that you did during the lockdown — what was number one, the most favorite?

MICHAEL It was one of the things, one of Pap's things, I think. I think I did his dumplings.

MARTIE Oh, really?

MICHAEL You know, his spaeztle. I think that was the most downloaded one or one of them. You know, we did 47 straight days and then we started doing a little bit more like weekly kind of thing. But when we did the 47 straight days, I think we got close to 40 million views over those...

MARTIE Wow.

MICHAEL Days, which was like total.

MARTIE I mean, that's crazy numbers, though.

MICHAEL It was incredible. And I think a lot of it — you know, Food Network obviously got behind it, was very supportive, which was huge. I think we were one of the first people to do it. So it just got a lot of attention. It got a lot of traction early.

MARTIE Well, and you're Michael Symon. Let's face it, you're an Iron Chef.

MICHAEL Oh, yeah, whatever.

MARTIE It's not like you were, you know, like Joe Blow cooking in his kitchen.

MICHAEL Ehh.

MARTIE We got to cook along with an Iron Chef. When do you get to do that?

MICHAEL I'm just an old bald guy who likes to cook.

MARTIE You're Pop Pop. Yeah, you're just old Pop Pop who loves to cook. Well, listen, walk us through that recipe, if you don't mind. The one you were telling about, the one that was so popular.

MICHAEL So, it's similar to what we were talking about earlier. You make a dough. A pretty simple batter of eggs, flour, chives. It's a loose dough. You cut it into boiling salted water. And then in a pan, you get some butter going, add some sliced onions to it. You could do fresh cabbage or sauerkraut or even shave Brussels sprouts. You add it in there. A nice pinch of like a sweet, smoky paprika and kind of let all that kind of bloom and caramelize and break down together. And then you pull out those noodles, those dumplings, and you put them in the sauce, a little bit of pasta water in there. And then you could finish them just with a little bit of sour cream if you want. Or you could dollop them with cream or swirl with sour cream in the sauce. And that's it. It's like as hearty as can be. If you have some ham, like a grilled ham steak would be delicious with it. A pork chop would be delicious with it. But really, it's delicious just by itself.

MARTIE I want to make that right now. That just sounds so good.

MICHAEL It's so easy. It's so good. I made some yesterday. We were playing around with a lot of my mom's like Greek stuff and we made kind of like the Greek version of it, I guess you would say?

MARTIE Right.

MICHAEL We made a pasta dough — essentially, we made, like, a cavatelli dough, but instead of using ricotta in it, we used Greek yogurt and made the same thing. We rolled them out in little dumplings and cooked them and did them almost like going to cacio e pepe with cracked black pepper and butter and lemon zest and finished with some Greek cheese. It was delicious. I had it for dinner yesterday.

MARTIE What is your favorite dish of your mom's that she cooked for you?

MICHAEL Oh, you know, it's probably her lasagna. I mean, my mom's lasagna, we serve it — it's actually funny — at Angeline, our restaurant named after my mother at the Borgata in Atlantic City. Her lasagna's on the menu. And I mean, she's made it for me, with me, with the cooks a million times. And I think we have it, I would say about 90 percent there. It's never as good as — it'll never in my mind be as good as my mom's. But she had it, and she thinks it's better than her's. So I, you know, I don't know what to think, but…

MARTIE It's the mother love.

MICHAEL It is.

MARTIE I mean, I have the same thing with my mother's recipes. I'm in her kitchen here with her pots, her pans, making the exact same thing she made, and it doesn't taste the same. My dad and I would say, "It's not quite right. Not quite right."

MICHAEL No.

MARTIE Not quite the same.

MICHAEL When we opened Angeline at the Borgata, the opening party, my mom and dad, they were nice enough to fly up my mom and dad to come to the like the grand opening because the restaurant was named after my mother. And there's a lot of her recipes on it. I think, did you meet my you met my mom and dad?

MARTIE Oh, yeah, yeah. A couple — yes.

MICHAEL So, you know, my dad's 6'4" and my mom's 4'10". You know? So...

MARTIE She's tiny! Little tiny thing.

MICHAEL Teeny tiny. So I go out into the dining room, I'm in the kitchen, I go out the dining room to make sure they're OK. And I'm like, "Dad, where's Mom?" And he's like, "Oh, she got up. I think she went to the restroom." We're waiting. We're waiting. I'm like, where the heck is she? So I go and I look over by the bathroom. I don't see her. And I go back to the kitchen. She has an apron on, and her, you know, she's Greek and Sicilian so she wears those big-ass heels. And she has her heels on. She's in the kitchen telling them they made the meatballs wrong. Now, this is a 250-seat restaurant, I'm like, "Mom! What?" And all these cooks are like, "Who's this? What's going on?" You know? Like, and she's like…

MARTIE But they weren't going to say no.

MICHAEL No! She's like...

MARTIE They weren't gonna say no.

MICHAEL She's like, "Who made the meatballs?" I'm like, "Ma, you got to get out of the kitchen." And so I go back up out. I'm like, "Dad, you've got to get Mom. We're in the middle of feeding 300 people, and my mother's in the middle of the kitchen. She has completely shut down production." My dad's like, "I'm not going... I'm not... You're going to have to deal with that. I'm not dealing with that."

MARTIE Oh gosh.

MICHAEL You know, it's like, he's 6'4". She's 4'10". Everyone's scared to death of her.

MARTIE Oh, she is — knows her business.

MICHAEL Oh, yeah. And when she's mad at me, she could like — in Greek, my name is Michalis. So I'm like, "Mom, you've got to get out of the kitchen." And she grabs me and she's like, "Michalis!" And I'm like, oh boy. Just do whatever, do whatever you have to do.

MARTIE I'm in trouble with. Whatever she says.

MICHAEL Just fix the meatballs. I'll, I'll, I'll go back somewhere else.

MARTIE Ah, so that lasagna is still on the menu.

MICHAEL So, lasagna is still on. And she loved the lasagna. She stayed for an extra day to to tweak the meatballs.

MARTIE Help them with the meatballs.

MICHAEL Yeah.

MARTIE You're listening to Homemade. Stay tuned as we'll ask Chef Michael Symon his sage advice for the average home cook and whether or not he'll ever officially battle his buddy, Bobby Flay. We'll be right back, after the break.

I'm Martie Duncan, and my guest today is Chef Michael Symon.

You know, you have some great stories about your family and that's really what the show's all about. We like to talk about family recipes, family traditions. I know that you are so close with your family that big holidays and things must be so special at your house. What's the one thing, though, that you have to have on your holiday table? Let's say we got to Easter around the corner.

MICHAEL We would always have a leg of lamb for Easter. Or like when I was younger, we would pit roast an entire lamb like, like a whole lamb on the pit.

MARTIE Oh, wow. Sort of like the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

MICHAEL Oh, 100 percent. That movie is like — my dad is is the guy in that movie.

MARTIE Her dad. Yeah.

MICHAEL Yeah. Like when my parents — again because the way my mom was raised, even though she was part Sicilian, she grew up in this huge Greek community and her mother, my Yiayia, none of her siblings made it to America. So, her whole family was my Papou's family. And so my mom's side of the family was very into the Greek culture. So, when she started dating my dad and they found out that he wasn't Greek, it was like…

MARTIE Just like the movie.

MICHAEL Just like the movie. Just like the movie. My dad tells a story, and my mom always says it's not true, but I think there is some truth to it. He goes, "Micheal, you don't understand. The day of our wedding, um, they wore black."

MICHAEL They were like...

MARTIE They were mourning. Oh, that's hysterical.

MICHAEL They were mourning, yeah.

MARTIE That is so funny.

MARTIE Well, you know, I have all your cookbooks, love all your cookbooks, but I want to um talk a bit about your Fix It with Food.

MICHAEL Mhm.

MARTIE Because I think a lot of our listeners, like me, probably struggle with inflammation. And I love that book. It helped me a lot. Can you tell me where it came from, how you thought about doing that, and what you've learned from doing it?

MICHAEL So, yeah, for me, it came out of necessity a little bit. I got diagnosed with RA and discoid lupus when I was about 24, 25. For a long time, I just, you know, had a lot of aches and pains and didn't always feel great. But you're younger and you just kind of push through it and you're like, eh, whatever. And, you know, as I got older, I don't know if it got more severe or my pain threshold went down or a little bit of both. It just — I started getting more and more achy.

And in season, let's say, four or five of "The Chew," they decided that for New Year's, they wanted us to all, you know, network TV and live every day, they wanted us, all the hosts, to pick a diet and do a month of a diet. So I'm like, you know what? I instead of doing like a book or this or that, I'm going to..try to do an anti-inflammatory diet. So I did as much research as I could about anti-inflammatory eating, and I was basically a vegan for 30 days, which is, you know, for me is like that's as close to the doors of hell as I can possibly get.

MARTIE I know that's right.

MICHAEL This is like as bad as it can get for me. And Liz was a vegan at the time. So no offense to vegans. I love vegans.

MARTIE Yes.

MICHAEL I just don't want to be one.

MARTIE You live with one, but I don't want to be one.

MICHAEL Exactly. Right. So, you know, no dairy, no alcohol, no beef, no flour, no sugar. So, basically no fun.

But at the end of the 30 days, I was kind of angry in the sense of like, I just want to eat what I want to eat.

MARTIE Yeah.

MICHAEL But all of a sudden all my aches and pains were gone. I was like, "Oh, God, please don't tell me I have to eat like this the rest of my life." So then as I started to talk to more people with inflammation issues, I started to realize that everyone's triggers are a little bit different. So I started introducing things back in a little bit at a time. So like, I introduced flour back. I'm like, "Oh, OK, I still feel fine." Let me rephrase that. When I cooked with flours that hadn't been bleached or bromated, I felt fine.

MARTIE OK.

MICHAEL I added red meat back. I felt fine. I'm like oh, the gods love me still. Thank God. Then I added sugar back. Felt terrible.

MARTIE That's me, too.

MICHAEL Yup.

MARTIE The sugar is my enemy. And I have a giant sugar addiction.

MICHAEL Yeah, I mean, we all do. It's like it's addicting as addicting can be. And OK, so I went off the sugar and then I added dairy back. Dairy also affected me. So then I'm like, OK, dairy and and sugar are my triggers. And as I started learning even more about those things, I realized that, like, if it's refined sugar, I have a problem. If it's honey or maple or things like that, no problem. Dairy. A giant glass of milk or a bowl of ice cream? Mmm, problems. But if it's like a harder cheese, like a Parmigiano-Reggiano, very little problem. So some of the harder cheeses, they don't affect me as much.

MARTIE So would you say to people, if you do something like this, it's a good idea to kind of go cold turkey and then see get yourself to a level and then start reintroducing so you can find your triggers?

MICHAEL Yep, I think that's what I do it. The way we set the book up is you got a 10 day reset where you kind of get everything out and then you add things back in and you find out what your triggers are, and then you have recipes throughout the book that allow you to cook without your triggers. And, you know, the thing is, too, Martie, for me, a lot of it was identifying it. Look, I'm a chef. I got to eat different things. And and also, I'm never going to be one of those people, you know, it's like my favorite Julia Child quote, "Everything in moderation, including moderation."

MARTIE Right.

MICHAEL If I'm out with my granddaughter and she wants ice cream, I'm going to get a bowl ice cream.

MARTIE Sure.

MICHAEL But at least_at least now I know when I feel like garbage the next day, it's the ice cream. That's what caused it.

MARTIE Well, we loved "Iron Chef." What was your most intimidating battle on "Iron Chef"?

MICHAEL Hoowee, my most intimidating battle? There's a couple answers, I guess. With "Iron Chef," when it was when the item was like a protein, I always felt it was as easy as can be. Because it's like to make that the star of the dish? Not a problem. The ones that were harder were, like, basil. Because like, OK, how do I make basil the star of five dishes?

MARTIE And one being a dessert, too.

MICHAEL Right. Yeah. Without it overpowering everything. But I would say that there were a couple that were my most fun. One was John Frazier, let his sous chefs go home. And so then I kicked my sous chefs off and we went one on one for that hour without any help. That was a lot of fun. That was battle of cauliflower. I thumped him, which was very exciting.

My other one that I really loved — and I was fortunate, I didn't lose often — but one of my dearest friends in the food business, Mark Vetri, I lost to Mark. But I could honestly say, even though I lost, it was as much fun as I've ever had doing an "Iron Chef." Because you're cooking against one of your best friends, and when I lost, I wasn't even — as you know, I'm very competitive.

MARTIE You're very competitive.

MICHAEL But it was like one of the few times in my life when I lost and I was just like, you know what? I was so happy for Mark, I didn't care.

MARTIE Which brings me to a question. You and Bobby, your BFF, Bobby Flay, y'all never battled on anything. Have you?

MICHAEL We refused to. We kind of said we would never do it. We compete so much in everything else in life, like in golf, in tiddledywinks, in everything. Like we're like, eh, you know what? Now, we do do a show together called — what the heck's it called? "BBQ Brawl." I had a brain fart. So we kind of compete on that. But we're competing more as mentors. We, like, pick a team and then my team goes against his team. So it's not like a head-to-head cooking...

MARTIE One on one. Yeah. Would you smoke him, though? I mean, would you, absolutely, smoke him? Come on.

MICHAEL No. I think a lot of it would be, quite frankly, it would really depend on — for Bobby and I, he's such a tremendous chef and...

MARTIE But the worst loser. He's the worst loser. I don't care what it is, like tiddledywinks. Bobby doesn't want to lose — at anything.

MICHAEL I got to tell you, he actually still owes me money for golf, so. But, um…

MARTIE Bobby, you hear that?

MICHAEL Yeah.

MARTIE Pay up.

MICHAEL He's gotta pay up. But I think with him and I went head to head, who would win would be so ingredient driven.

MARTIE Right.

MICHAEL Like it would really like if it was chiles, he'd beat me

MARTIE Oh, yeah. For sure.

MICHAEL If it was a whole hog, I'd beat him, you know? So I just think a lot of it would depend on what the ingredient was.

MARTIE Well, I'll tell you one thing I loved about you was, on "Iron Chef," you come out, you got your arms crossed, you're all mad looking and pissed off and like, "I'm killing people here." And then on "The Chew," you laugh like a girl.

MICHAEL Well, I know!

MARTIE Like a girl! I'm like, oh, my God, is that the same guy? That laugh is so fabulous. I miss it in the mornings. It would make me happy in the mornings.

MICHAEL But it was so funny on "Iron Chef." I mean, you know me in real life. So it's like, in real life, I'm just always kind of laughing and having a good time.

MARTIE Yes!

MICHAEL And we're having fun. And on "Iron Chef," they would be like, "You need to be more serious." I'm like, "Why can't I just laugh?" You know? I said, "I'm perfectly comfortable kicking someone's ass and laughing."

MARTIE Yes. Let me do it.

MICHAEL So just let me do it how I want to do it.

MARTIE Yeah, but I love they're coming in all gruff-looking and pissed off.

MICHAEL Yeah, yeah. I know.

MARTIE Yeah, yeah. You had to do the mean stare with the knife and I'm like, "Hey, he looks kind of mad." And then on "The Chew," you're like, laugh all the time. I'm like, OK. And this is before I really know who you were.

MICHAEL Right.

MARTIE And met you in person a few times. And so I thought, yeah, he's really fun. All right. I want to bring up and have you talk about your mother-in-law. You told a great story when you came down to Alabama. You came to the Oyster Cookoff and I did not know your mother-in-law was Southern. So I want to hear this story about your mother-in-law again. And I want you to talk to me about the biscuits.

MICHAEL All right, so Liz's mom is from Dalton, Georgia. And just the sweetest woman. Sherla. So when Liz and I started dating and I got to know her parents better, I'm like, "Oh, you know, let's have your parents over for brunch." I knew Liz's mom was from the South. And so I'm like, this is my moment. You know? I'm a chef. Impress her mom, cook up a little storm.

So I make breakfast and I make biscuits. And her mom was always so sweet to me. Always. And I see her, like, kind of moving the biscuits and playing with the biscuits. And she was the first, like, someone from the South, I really got to know very well, obviously. And so, you know, she gave me a "bless your heart," which I thought meant, oh, my God, she loves me. "Bless your heart." Like, that's the nicest thing anybody's ever said to me. And I realized what it meant was, she hates these biscuits.

MARTIE Well, no. What she meant was — and there's two ways to take "bless your heart," you know? One of them can mean, "Oh, my God, you stupid idiot." And the other one is really like, "Oh, you poor thing. You just don't know better."

MICHAEL I think that's what it was. "You poor thing, you don't know better."

MARTIE That's what it was.

MICHAEL But shortly after that, I went over to Sherla's house and Russ' house and got a biscuit class. And I'd like to say buy my biscuits still aren't as good as Sherla's or Liz's. Liz makes them pretty much every — on Sundays, I meet one of my buddies, we take the dog for a walk, gone for a couple hours, and almost every Sunday when I come home, Liz has biscuits coming out of the oven. So, Liz, make biscuits every bit as good as — or I would say, 95 percent as good as Sherla's. They're both much better biscuit makers than I am. I think my hands are too hot. I think I have hot hands.

MARTIE Well, that can be a problem, for sure.

MICHAEL Yeah.

MARTIE You got to keep that butter cold.

MICHAEL Exactly. I'm blaming it on the hot hands.

MARTIE Yeah, that's a good — yeah, say, "I can't make biscuits. My hands are too hot."

MICHAEL Yeah, but I did get a good biscuit class. And I under — like I could make a very solid biscuit.

MARTIE OK, give us Sherla's secret for great biscuits. What did she tell you?

MICHAEL She freezes the butter and grates it in.

MARTIE My dad did that, too. Yes.

MICHAEL I think that's one of the tricks. And here's another trick that, this is a Liz addition, later on.

MARTIE OK.

MICHAEL Liz doesn't use buttermilk in her biscuits. She...

MARTIE What!

MICHAEL She uses… No. And this is, I know, going to anger the Southern part of you. What's the — it's not yogurt but the yogurt milk. The uh, kefir?

MARTIE Kefir, yeah?

MICHAEL So Liz uses that instead of buttermilk.

MARTIE Like, I'm Southern I don't know about kefir.

MICHAEL I know that it gives it a little bit more of a lift. And they have a touch more sourness to them.

MARTIE Really?

MICHAEL I'm not going to say they're better, but they're really, really tasty.

MARTIE I imagine that it would have like, that little snap of..

MICHAEL Yeah.

MARTIE Tart, tangy. It could be quite nice.

MICHAEL Yeah. Like, I mean, like, think of a difference in taste between, like yogurt, Greek yogurt, and buttermilk.

MARTIE Right.

MICHAEL So, I mean, that's kind of the difference. But they, to me, they feel a little fluffier.

MARTIE Oh wow. Would you ask Liz to send me that recipe?

MICHAEL I will. I told Carla Hall about it once and she kind of shook me off. So...

MARTIE Yeah, so, tell Lizzie I want to know that. I want to try it. I want to try them all.

All right, so, what is your biggest tip or your best advice for the home cook?

MICHAEL Best advice for the home cook would be a couple of things. Don't be afraid of salt. I feel the home cooks, like, are very afraid of salt. Now, obviously, if you have health issues and you refrain from salt, then refrain salt. But most people, they just under-season everything, and not only do they under-season, it's when they season. Like, you have to season in the beginning of the procedure to — salt brings out the flavors of food. So if you wait to the end and then try to throw salt, you end up with food that's salty. If you season it as you go, you end up with food that has a nice round flavor. That would be my first.

My other tip would be whether you're cooking in a grill or cooking on a pan or cooking on everything, quit moving the food around so much. People just put a protein in a pan and they start doing, like, the dance and they got to move everything. Just let the pan or the grill do the work, let the meat caramelize, and then it'll naturally release itself and you could flip it and you're off to the races.

MARTIE I think that's so spot on, spot on, spot on. Right. Both of those things. And I've heard them from a lot of people. Ann Burrell, you know, she does "Worst Cooks," and she told us the same thing. Like, people just don't touch it. Leave it be.

MICHAEL Stop. Take a breath.

MARTIE Let it brown. Y'all, let it brown. And don't overcrowd the pan. Don't shove everything. OK, so that's one thing. What's your number one go-to piece of cooking equipment or tool that you think that every home kitchen should have?

MICHAEL Oh, you know what? I'm sitting at my island right now, and I would say two things. A bench scraper.

MARTIE OK, love those.

MICHAEL And there's all kinds of. This is actually a fancy one, I usually just have the cheap kitchen plastic ones. And a rasp.

MARTIE Yes.

MICHAEL Like, a Microplane rasp.

MARTIE Microplane, yes.

MICHAELThose are two things that I probably use...

MARTIE Every day.

MICHAEL Constantly in the kitchen.

MARTIE Every day.

MICHAEL And then, you know, you need a good chef's knife.

MARTIE Of course.

MICHAEL But I would say like for things that people don't have that won't cost you an arm and a leg? Go online and order plastic bench scraper probably for two bucks. Like, I usually order like a dozen of them. And you could get a rasp for, you know, what? Fifteen bucks. So those are two things that you don't have to spend an arm and a leg on that are really going to be beneficial for you in the kitchen.

MARTIE Well, I use that Microplane every single day for something.

MICHAEL Oh, yeah. Cheese, grate spices. It's endless. You could just do lemon zest, orange zest, lime zest. It's like, use it for everything.

MARTIE Listen, Chef, I just want to say you've been a joy, a pleasure. You're such a good friend to do this for me. I know our listeners are going to love it. Is there anything you want to talk about that we didn't touch on?

MICHAEL One thing that I think this whole year so far has taught everybody is, you know, it gave everybody a second to kind of step back and reassess and refocus. And everyone's so busy all the time, it made us realize how good everything was.

MARTIE And time with family that we were missing.

MICHAEL Right.

MARTIE I mean, we were just, you know, run, run, run, run, run, run, run.

MICHAEL Right.

MARTIE This thing, another thing. And then, you know, this year we're like, hey, this is kind of cool.

MICHAEL Yeah, 100 percent.

MARTIE With the house, with the family.

MICHAEL Yup.

MARTIE And you know, have this time. This thing you can't get back. And I think that was something that I had really just sort of taken for granted is that we would always have time.

MICHAELYeah, we always do. Yeah.

MARTIE And, this has taught me, if anything, don't take anything for granted. Don't take anything for granted.

Well, Chef Michael Symon, thank you. Pop Pop, thank you so much for coming on this episode of Homemade. We loved talking to you. We feel like we know you. We feel like we're in your house with you and with Lizzie and Norman. But really, I think we got to know you a little bit better today. So thank you so much for being on Homemade.

MICHAEL Thanks, Martie. Hope to see you soon. Bye guys.

MARTIE I always love catching up with Michael Symon. You can keep up with him on his website, michaelsymon.com, YouTube, or tune in to his Instagram for Symon dinners.

Coming up on the next on Homemade, we'll have a special episode dedicated to the great Julia Child. We'll hear from Jacques Pépin, Sara Moulton, Dorie Greenspan, and others who knew her best and from many of the chefs who feel that she was one of the greatest influences on their career.

You won't want to miss this one. So please, subscribe to the podcast right now. And if you have a minute, I'd love it if you could rate this podcast a leave us a review. I'd really appreciate. It.

And don't forget, you can find thousands of recipes, meal ideas, and cooking how-tos from the world's largest community of cooks at Allrecipes.com.

This podcast was recorded in Birmingham, edited in Atlanta, and can be found wherever you get your podcasts.

Homemade is produced by Allrecipes with Digital Content Director, Jason Burnett. Thanks to our Pod People production team: Rachael King, Matt Sav, Danielle Roth, Jim Hanke, Maya Kroth, and Erica Huang.

I'm Martie Duncan, and this is Homemade.