Celebrity Chef Michael Symon visits Youngstown, discusses running restaurants during pandemic

Local News

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Celebrity Chef Michael Symon made the short drive from his home in Cleveland to be the season’s first speaker in Youngstown State’s Skeggs Lecture series Thursday.

Before his speech, he spent some time at the home of President Jim Tressel.

Close to 2,000 people were at Stambaugh Auditorium Thursday night to listen to Jim Tressel interview Michael Symon about — you guessed it — food.

Before his speech, the celebrity chef brought his hearty laugh and culinary knowledge to the on-campus home of President Tressel and his wife Ellen.

Symon’s a big sports fan and said talking with the former coach was amazing.

“My wife was born and raised in Berea, too, so — the Tressel family is royalty in Ohio,” Symon said.

A cooking demonstration Symon had planned for outside was moved inside because of the rain.

He met in the Tressel’s main kitchen and talked shop with the owners and chefs from Michael Alberini’s, Bistro 1907, Station Square and Prima Cucina.

“In Vegas, we have a Mabel’s and then we have a little secret restaurant there called Sarah’s,” Symon said.

Symon says he’s been to Youngstown before. In fact, he almost took a job here.

“Carmen Policy and the Debartolo’s brought me out. They had a restaurant. Can’t think of the name of the restaurant, what was the Italian restaurant… Paonessa’s? Paonessa’s. So there was a time when I almost became a chef at Paonessa’s,” he said.

He also talked to First News about being a celebrity chef.

“My big break was in — food and wine magazine names me one of the top 10 young chefs in America, and then I won a James Beard Award. So from a culinary standpoint, that’s really what launched me,” Symon said.

But then, in 1995 came the Food Network, and that’s when people like Michael Symon became household names.

“In like ’99, 2000, Emeril Live hit, and then Rachel’s 30-Minute Meals hit, and then all of a sudden, the network just exploded. And it’s been growing and growing ever since. So it’s been a fun ride,” Symon said.

Symon talked about having to close his first restaurant because of the pandemic — Lola Bistro in Cleveland.

He called it “a sad, emotional thing,” but he said the restaurant industry is resilient — and the pandemic has showed us how important these gathering places are to our communities.

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