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'Iron Chef' Michael Symon talks food and family

Chef Michael Symon on ?Iron Chef America."

Chef Michael Symon on “Iron Chef America." (Credit: AP)

Best known for his speedy knife skills on Food Network's “Iron Chef America,” Michael Symon tries to slow it down at home, especially around the dinner table.

“It's so important to get your family around the table,” Symon said. “When I was a kid, it was seven days a week. Life is not nine-to-five anymore. But the more days you can take that hour break around the table as a family, the better off you'll be. It's a great place to talk, chill and enjoy a good meal.”

When Symon is not competing on “Iron Chef” or staring in ABC's “The Chew,” he is busy running one of his 12 restaurants, including Lola, Lolita and B Spot in the greater Cleveland area. Symon is married to Liz Shanahan, who is also a collaborator on his restaurants. His stepson Kyle is 26 years old -- he was two when they met.


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Recently, Symon was in Manhattan to announce the finalists for the Lays “Do Us A Flavor” contest, in which consumers devised new potato chip flavors. The finalist flavors are Sriracha, Cheesy Garlic Bread and Chicken and Waffles. The public can visit Lays' Facebook page to vote on which flavor will remain in stores on Lays Facebook page. I was able to catch up with Symon to discuss family cooking, competing and balancing it all. Here's what he had to say.

So, do you prepare all the meals at home?
Lizzy is a great cook as well. She does a lot of cooking at home; we split it up. We met in the restaurant business 23 years ago so cooking has always been something we've shared together. My stepson Kyle loves interesting, spicy foods. He loves Indian, Thai and Vietnamese food. He's a vegan, which is funny since his stepdad wrote a book called “Carnivore.”

When Kyle was growing up, what was your family's favorite meal?
I'd make beautifully roasted chicken, and Liz would make spicy coconut rice and tons of vegetables. We'd roast whatever was in season.

How do you encourage kids to try new foods?
Kids are at our house quite a bit. I have 12 nephews and two nieces who are very young. The best way to help kids be adventurous eaters is to get them involved in the process. The more you cook with them, the more they'll be willing to try things. For example, anything we grow in the garden, my nephew Henry wants to eat it. If you never want your kid to eat a chicken nugget again, have them make one with you and they'll never eat it again!

Advice for parents of picky eaters?
I think kids have to try everything. You're not a short-order cook. You make a meal and everyone sits down together to eat it. You shouldn't be making four different meals. My best friend has three sons and once a week they go grocery shopping together. Each child has to pick a meat and one vegetable that they've never tried before. Then, they cook it together and eat it that week. If you get them involved in the shopping, growing and cooking process, the chances of them being picky goes down dramatically. Quite frankly, kids should have a lot less choices when it comes to eating.

How do you balance work and family life?
I think you need pick times and stick to them. Liz and I opened our first restaurant when Kyle was 10. The restaurant business is a lot of long hours but we tried to eat together as often as possible, whether it was at the restaurant or we took a break and ate at home. When Kyle was growing up we didn't have to deal with cellphones, iPads, Twitter or Facebook so it gets even more challenging now. A great rule of thumb is to turn all electrical stuff off when eating dinner. Now as an adult, I'm bad about checking my phone during dinner. It's a habit but it's a bad habit. It's a good time to focus on and learn about each other.

What’s coming up for you in 2013?
We're cruising through season two of “The Chew” on ABC. I love it because I get to cook on a show where I'm actually teaching people how to get a delicious, inexpensive, made-from-scratch meal on the table. There's another season of “Iron Chef” filming in June and at some point this year we'll film “Symon Suppers.” I also have a new cookbook coming out in the fall.

Who is your fiercest competitor on “Iron Chef?”
I'd have to say Masaharu Morimoto. I always think of him as the original Iron Chef. We've went against each other four times head-to-head and two times in team battles. He's as tough as it gets. I'll never go against Bobby Flay because he's my best friend and it would ruin our summer golf games!

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