Cooking with Michael Symon: Darien Patch Takes a Trip to 'The Chew'
A small kitchen fire made one of my big dreams come true Friday when I cooked with Michael Symon on ABC's daytime talk show "The Chew."
Sometimes exciting stories really do start in a burst of flame.
This flame ignited when I tried to take the lazy way out by using the pot that was clean but small rather than scrubbing the one that sat in my dishwasher. It never crossed my mind that the hair-fine egg noodles, too long for the pot, would so easily become tinder.
But they did, drooping onto the burner instead of sliding into the pot. They caught on fire and set into motion a series of events that culminated Friday when I appeared on the ABC daytime talk show The Chew.
The story already had a happy ending because I put the fire out by remembering a lesson chef and Chew co-host Michael Symon gave during a segment on the show.
Stay calm. Smother the fire.
I didn’t have a lid handy like Symon said to use, so I grabbed the nearest broad implement—a wooden spoon—and extinguished the flames bit by bit. I emailed the story of my spoon heroics to The Chew in January, never expecting to hear anything more.
The story got an even happier ending when, two weeks ago, Tess Koenig from The Chew’s production team emailed me. Would I be interested in cooking with Symon on the show?
Michael Symon? The Iron Chef? Owner of B Spot, one of my favorite burger joints in the world?
After several phone calls, Koenig told me she wasn’t sure if it would work out after all for me to actually cook with Symon. But she wanted me to be in the audience anyway for the filming of a Chicago-themed episode.
That’s how I found myself on a plane May 23 heading to New York City to film, unbeknownst to me, a segment on The Chew.
A driver was waiting for me when I landed at Newark Airport early Thursday morning—my first clue that I might be doing more than just sitting in the audience during the filming later that day. Unless The Chew had a production budget the size of the Chrysler Building, I had a hunch not every audience member got her own free ride from the airport.
We glided amid the light overnight traffic, along the New Jersey Turnpike and through the Holland Tunnel until we burst into the shimmering lights of Manhattan.
Even at 1:30 a.m. the streets pulsed with people: shop owners arranging flowers along sidewalk displays that glowed under fluorescent lights, workers piling ungainly mounds of trash bags in the cluttered gutters, and a handful of young women in pastel dresses twirling delicately, if drunkenly, on the ivory steps of Lincoln Center.
In the morning, I headed to ABC’s Manhattan studio, where I waited in a line corralled by a pretty girl wearing a headset and a mini-dress. Work clothes in New York: different from Chicago.
Koenig met me in the audience waiting room and offered advice on how to react “if anything happens.” She suggested I act like everything was the most exciting thing I’d ever experienced. Day to day I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me if someone gives me a cookie, so yeah, anything that happens on national TV? If you want enthusiasm, I’m your girl.
A production assistant called groups of audience members to the stage door by our color-coded tickets. When she announced my cluster, she then called my name and hustled me through the door and onto the set, which a staffer said used to be home to Good Morning America and World News.
She seated me at The Chew’s Tasting Table, where audience members get to sample dishes cooked on the show. Dozens of clipboard-wielding, headset-wearing staffers milled around the set, which was surprisingly compact.
I started chatting with the girl sitting next to me, who was from New Jersey and fretted that she would appear on camera without any makeup.
The Chew’s hosts entered without fanfare: Clinton Kelly, also known as the co-host of TLC’s What Not to Wear; Carla Hall of Top Chef; Daphne Oz, author of The Dorm Room Diet and daughter of TV’s most famous doctor; and Michael Symon, Iron Chef, restaurateur and hero of my hometown, Cleveland. (Chef Mario Batali was absent from the taping.)
And then the show began.
The co-hosts of The Chew bring it. Their effervescence radiated around the set as they danced like the Blues Brothers and discussed the intricacies of authentic Italian beef sandwiches.
Those of us seated at the Tasting Table chowed down Symon’s version of Italian beef after the first commercial break: thick slices of tenderloin topped with crisp celery and bracing jalapenos, cradled in a crunchy baguette. It was delicious.
Dancing with the Stars runners-up Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas made caramel corn brownie sundaes with Hall. Ballas, who said he avoids carbohydrates during the show’s season, was surprisingly petite. Jenkins was modest and beautiful.
As the seconds ticked by, I grew more and more anxious as I wondered if, as Koenig put it, anything would happen. Each time I took a bite of food, I worried it would lodge itself between my front teeth. Each time I ran my tongue over my smile, I worried the camera would catch me making a chimp-like face.
After a pre-taped visit to Gino’s East, it was almost time—one more commercial break and Symon would cook with his Chicago superfan, whose identity had yet to be revealed.
Staffers readied the co-hosts with pizza boxes. Symon held a box slightly larger than the rest.
Back from the break, Symon paced in front of the Tasting Table. I can’t even remember what he said. All I know is what I read when he opened the pizza box before me: “Lauren, will you cook with me?”
Somehow I managed to stumble down the stairs and onto the set, where Kelly complimented my necklace and Hall whisked away my cell phone, which Koenig had instructed me to bring with me should “anything happen.” (My phone’s wallpaper is a neon pickle sign from Symon’s restaurant B Spot.)
Symon instructed me to pluck sprigs of fresh oregano while he smashed garlic for the lemon chicken with fried potatoes, a specialty from Chicago restaurant Tufano's. Hall asked me to tell the story of the fire. Oz asked me what I love about Symon.
On The Chew, I was representing Chicago, but in my cells I will always be a Cleveland girl. There are two things people typically tell a Clevelander upon first meeting: either “Cleveland rocks” or “Your river caught on fire.”
Through Symon, people are starting to learn about the heart that beats beneath the worn punch lines. He’s introduced the country to Cleveland’s rich, ritualized tradition of food, from the beef jerky at J&J Czuchraj to the pierogi at Sokolowski’s University Inn. He’s elevated that legendary foundation by introducing his own dynamic trio of Cleveland restaurants, Lola, Lolita and B Spot.
Cleveland is a city of hardworking, unpretentious people who are proud of where they come from, no matter how perennially beleaguered a place it may be. Symon is our own folk hero, the local boy made good who still lives half the week in his beloved hometown.
Symon embodies hope that even if you come from a humble city, one that doesn’t shimmer after midnight with the lights of Manhattan, you never know where you might end up.
Just like you never know what else might catch fire when you ignite a simple pot of noodles.