Foodstuff: For your health
Superstar chef Michael Symon talks about food resets and recipes
One thing I notice when I sit down to interview Michael Symon is that we seem to have several things in common. The renowned television chef and restaurateur, who spoke to me as he was en route to New York City to shoot an episode of “Beat Bobby Flay,” is also half Sicilian. He’s gregarious. He laughs often, loud, and boisterously. He loves talking in great detail about food in any fashion. Moreso, he’s an expert at peppering his conversation with a well-timed expletive.
His rise through the superstar chef ranks includes recognition as Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 1998, the year he also started visiting Aspen annually for the Food & Wine Classic. He’s been an Iron Chef on the Food Network, on shows like “Burgers, Brew & ‘Que,“ and was also ABC’s resident chef as well as a former co-host of the Emmy-winning TV show, “The Chew.“ Additionally, he has helmed numerous award-winning restaurants and currently is the chef/owner of three dining establishments across the United States. He is the author of six award-winning cookbooks, four of which have landed on The New York Times Best Seller list. And his cookbooks were on my mind when I reached out to him for a Foodstuff interview. Sort of.
“I got diagnosed with discoid lupus 25 years ago,” says Symon.
Something else the chef and I have in common, though it’s been three for me. The mark on my arm started as a red circle about the size of a quarter. Within a few months, my skin was hot to the touch, and the red had spread from the base of my shoulder halfway down my arm. Some days, I could barely bend at the elbow. After a pile of misdiagnoses and endless doctors’ visits on the (very frustrating) road to nowhere, blood tests, pain, rashes, exhaustion, hair loss, headaches, and joint pain so severe I was walking with a limp, the lupus diagnosis came back for me as well.
Lupus is an incurable, autoimmune disease, and there are mixed theories about whether it can be addressed with diet, but as I figured there’s no harm in trying, I gave Chef Symon a ring. Two of his books address cooking for autoimmune issues, so I picked up a copy of his second book on the subject, “Fix it with Food: Every Meal Easy” (published in 2021).
“You know, I’m a chef, and we eat a lot. I’ve always been active and exercised and taken good care of myself,” he said. But as he aged, he said his arthritis and lupus-related pain increased, so he started experimenting with various diets, rather than aggressively pursuing a path of medication.
That all started with a very restrictive eating plan.
“I was a vegan for 30 days, and I was really irritable,” he said with a laugh. “I hate the word ‘diet.’ I’m not going through the rest of my life and not having dairy or sugar.”
While those foods are both triggers for him, he’s a fierce believer in everything in moderation.
“If I have one bourbon, I’m not hungover the next day. If I have four, I want to stick my head my head in an ice bath. For me, food is the same way,” he said. And so his anti-inflammatory cookbooks were born.
“Fix it with Food: Every Meal Easy” is chock-full of easy-to-follow recipes, categorized by trigger identification (i.e., a section without dairy), and starts with a simple 10-day reset, which has breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, all containing no dairy, no flour, no meat, and no refined sugar. Recipes that follow are organized in that order, re-introducing a potential inflammatory ingredient per chapter, again organized by mealtime.
While this might seem prescriptive, the variety of foods runs the gamut, from Cauliflower Soup with Mushroom and Kale (no trigger ingredients), all the way to a delicious-looking Vietnamese Steak Salad that includes meat, but no dairy, flour, or refined sugar. Snack recipes are also included throughout, and each recipe is for one or two servings, as Symon says he finds “it’s easier to scale portions up”.
He also handily includes a master list of substitutions, so if you don’t like kale, use spinach.
“I don’t cook a lot of the same things twice unless it’s in a restaurant setting. With my recipes in the books and when I’m teaching cooking on TV, I always want to teach a technique,” which means many of the recipes, such as the Clams with Escarole, Garlic, and Tomato can be adapted to use “any seafood or any chicory green,” he says.
And while we won’t see him in Aspen this summer — a serious bout of altitude-related migraines will keep him from the Classic indefinitely — he is putting the finishing touches on a new cookbook, on shelves next year, based on his popular “Symon’s Dinners Cooking Out” show on Food Network.
Katherine Roberts is a mid-Valley-based writer and marketing professional who plans on getting travel tips from Chef Symon for her upcoming inaugural trip to Italy in the Spring. She can be reached via her marketing and communications firm, Carington Creative, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Tuesday, DiGiulian will be in Aspen talking about her journey and her book as part of the Aspen Words, Winter Words author series at Paepcke Auditorium.