The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2013

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Page 59 of 148

Lola: Cleveland, OH M ichael Symon grew up in a Greek and Sicilian family, very accustomed to lots of noise and activity. There was always plenty action in the kitchen, too, because food drew his extended family together. And if you're used to a loud and rambunctious lifestyle, the music of Van Halen its right in—bold, fun and anything but shy. That's a pretty good description of Symon himself, and it might help to explain his longtime connection with rocker Sammy Hagar. "Cleveland is a rock and roll town, and I was a Van Halen freak, he says. " Symon remembers vividly being in the kitchen of Lola, his much-honored bistro in Cleveland, when a co-worker came to the back and said that Sammy Hagar was on the phone. "I thought it was just one of my friends being an idiot, Symon says with a laugh. But it wasn't a prank; " Hagar was coming to Cleveland, and he'd heard about Lola's and wanted to come have a meal. "I just love to eat, Hagar told Symon. "Just cook me something. " " And that began a friendship that's lasted almost 15 years, and it has seen them both have a rising arc to prominence in the food and beverage industries. "Sammy's a big-time guy without the big-time attitude, " Symon says. "He's a down-to-earth guy you can't help liking. Since that irst dinner, Hagar always comes by " when he's in town. And Symon knows that Hagar has a sophisticated palate. Symon's an Iron Chef on the wildly successful television show, he's won a Beard Foundation award (among many other accolades), and yet he's still very much a down-home guy. He had a brief foray into the New York restaurant scene, and although he pretty much splits his time there now, his eateries are centered in the heartland. Lola is buzzing, and it consistently rates among the top restaurants in the Midwest. And in the bar, Sammy's Beach Bar Rum is getting lots of play. "The way this business works is, if the servers like something, it'll sell, attests " Symon. "And they really like that rum. " PHOTO: COURTESY OF MICHAEL SYMON'S RESTAURANTS Michael Symon of Lola's in Cleveland. may 2013 / the tasting panel / 59

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