Courtesy of Food Network Magazine
When your family is part-Greek, part-Italian, as Iron Chef Michael Symon's is, Easter is a big deal. Especially this year, when both the Greek and Western Easter, marked by different calendars, fall on the same day: April 4. But the chef won't be sweating things when the holiday rolls around. This year, he hosted a practice run at home in Cleveland and invited some of his oldest friends over to test out the menu. Because his mom's family is Greek and Italian, Michael likes to take the best dishes from each side and turn them into one great multicultural feast. "We always have something pork, something lamb," he says. To keep things easy, he relies on old family favorites: "I don't want to get stuck in the kitchen, so we want simple things we can just put out."
Michael's wife, Liz, who oversees the wine and spirits program at all of his restaurants, says it's always better when he keeps the meal on the simpler side, so he doesn't tear apart the kitchen. "He can be messy when he cooks and doesn't have his staff," she teases.
The pre-Easter warm-up dinner is a good excuse for Michael to invite his closest friends (pictured on page 120) over for a party. The main difference between this celebration and the actual holiday: the size of the crowd. "We'd be a lot rowdier on Easter," jokes the chef's longtime friend Ricky Blaszak. Michael's entire family would be here-40 people in all. "We have so many people over that we have to grab extra tables from downstairs," Michael says, despite the fact that his dining room table is 16 feet long.
The chef denies there's any family rivalry over which country's food gets the best showing on the table. "Everyone is just happy there's food," Liz jokes. Still, Michael admits that there is one relative he gets nervous cooking for: his mom. "She'll always tell me I'm doing something wrong," he says. In fact, despite all of his success (an Iron Chef title, five restaurants), his mother's baklava still intimidates him. "The baklava is a family recipe, and my mom is the only one who can make it right," he says. "I've been watching her make it since I was 4, but I always mess up and 'over-chef' it."
Photographs by Jim Franco