He’s a star on The Chew, a beloved Iron Chef and one of the most passionate carnivorous chefs out there, with restaurants like Roast in Detroit that serves BBQ pork bellies and beef cheeks.
So why is celebrity chef Michael Symon doing a Meatless Monday cooking demo at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic in June? Chef Symon fills us in on how he’s embracing his inner veggie and shares two favorite Meatless Monday recipes — Swiss Chard Ravioli and Eggplant Dip with Homemade Flatbread.
I was born and raised in the Midwest, so meat was a large part of my growing up and a large part of my diet. That being said, when it comes to cooking and eating, I always try to preach that life is about moderation. Even if I’m having beef for dinner, it’s probably going to be a 3-4oz portion with heaps and heaps of vegetables.
Because I’m so known as a meat-chef, when I talk about Meatless Monday some people look at me like I’ve lost my mind. I’m like, look, I’m not saying beef and pork is bad, I love it and I eat it six days a week, but one day a week – and quite frankly given my schedule, it’s not always Monday – I just remove meat from my diet. I think it gives the earth a second to breathe and gives my body time to do what it needs to do.
So when did you start doing meatless days?
When I met my wife 20+ years ago, she was a vegetarian, so I was the closest thing to the devil that she had ever met. She was like, “All you eat is meat! What is wrong with you?” Her diet was more vegetable and plant-based and my diet was more heavily meat-based, so we found a middle. It just became part of our life routine.
How did you even woo her?
After years she just gave in. But I found her beautiful and interesting, so if I had to eat vegetables 5 days a week to get another date, so be it!
What’s your advice for how die-hard carnivores can make vegetables exciting?
No matter how great a chef or cook you are, if you start with a bad product the chance of putting out a great meal are very limited. In Cleveland, I’m so fortunate that we’re surrounded by farms with an endless variety of beautiful vegetables. For me, I always eat very tightly with the season, even if the season is only six weeks. Like right now we have ramps and I can’t eat enough of them and in six weeks I’ll be kinda bored with them, but that’s okay because a new season will start with new vegetables. I think you can also keep it exciting by using different legumes and interesting grains like quinoa and farrow.
We really loved The Chew’s episode on Meatless Monday. What’s it like working on the show?
It’s just horrible! I don’t know how I do it every day! But honestly, I love it. My co-hosts are fantastic people. Mario and I have been friends for a long time. I’ve gotten to be great friends with Clinton, Daphne, and Carla. That they actually pay me and this is a job is an incredible blessing. I love to go to work every day.
We saw that your upcoming book is called A Modern Day Meat Bible. Is the next one going to be A Modern Day Vegetable Bible?
Actually, in the meat book I talk a lot about vegetables. There’s a whole section of the cookbook devoted to vegetables and grains just as there is for beef. I also talk a lot about portioning and cooking the right meats that are better for the environment. I’d rather see people eat a small portion of sustainably raised and organic meats than a 20oz portion of whatever you want to refer to that other meat as.
Can you give us a sneak peek on what you have in mind for Aspen?
It’ll depend on what’s in season. I’m a pretty fly by the seat of my pants cook. I’ll go, see what’s in the markets, then I’ll cook. It just always works best for me that way.
Is there a home for Meatless Monday in your restaurants?
We’ve talked about it… Lola and Lolita we could probably do it relatively easy. My other restaurant is Roast in Detroit, and it really wouldn’t work there.
That being said it’s still something I believe in very strongly and when I tell people they look at me like I’m crazy! They say “you own a restaurant that cooks animals on spits and specializes in hamburgers, why would you ever promote not eating meat for one day a week?” For me, it’s just a choice that I make, not only for myself, but also the Earth that I stand on.
Check out the full story on The Huffington Post for Symon’s favorite Meatless Monday recipes; Swiss Chard Ravioli and Eggplant Dip with Homeade Flatbread.