Cleveland may not have a World Series or NBA champion, but it does have an Iron Chef - and in some circles that`s an even bigger deal.
Michael Symon - owner of Cleveland hotspots Lola and Lolita - competed for eight weeks on the Food Network`s popular mini-series "The Next Iron Chef," before finally taking home the crown (or chef`s hat) Sunday. Surviving eliminations for the first seven weeks, Symon fought his way to a one-on-one challenge with competitor John Besh.
Last night, the two tested their culinary chops on the week`s theme ingredient: swordfish. For eight weeks, food fans across the country sat at the edge of their seats wondering who would be the next Iron Chef. And after an hour of chopping, dicing, frying and filleting, they finally learned.
But I`ve known for a month.
The series was filmed earlier this year, but to protect the secrecy of the results and build tension, Symon and the seven losers were sworn to secrecy - to the tune of $1 million. Symon even had to haggle to get permission to tell his wife.
His wife. But when I interviewed him last month at the Elyria County Club - where he runs the dining room - he let slip a little taste of his success.
"So, you win right?" I asked him.
A smile spread over his face - his trademark soul patch rising to meet his lower lip. "So far, so good," he said.
"So far, so good?" I knew what that meant, Iron Chef Symon. But, in the interest of saving him $1 million, I kept our little secret quiet.
As I followed the show for the next five weeks, his growing confidence proved I was right. Even when he struggled some weeks to barely avoid elimination, I was untroubled.
And while the rest of the country chewed their fingernails, I watched in complete calm. As soon as he introduced his six swordfish-themed dishes last night, I knew this one was in the bag. Poor Besh never had a chance.
Bobby Flay - one of the judges, upon trying one of Symon`s dishes said that it was definitely "Iron Chef material." I laughed to myself. Bobby probably didn`t know it, but he was foreshadowing what I already knew.
Symon is no longer "Iron Chef material" - he`s the real deal.
From here, the already top-shelf chef can go nowhere but up. Lola and Lolita - where it was already tough to find a table - will now be nearly impossible to infiltrate. If you`re hoping to sample some of Iron Chef Symon`s famous Mediterranean cuisine anytime during the next year, you`d better call in a reservation immediately.
Now that the show`s run - which was one of the Food Network`s highest-rated programs - has concluded, Symon has joined the pantheon of elite chefs - the top of the top. If he wasn`t already a celebrity chef, he is now.
As soon as he won, Symon announced his pleasure.
"It`s a huge deal," he said. "These Iron Chefs are legendary chefs."
And now, Michael Symon, you are among them.
Now you begin your career as the newest Iron Chef.
So far, so good.
Contact Michael Baker at 329-7155 or email@example.com.