Two cherub pigs float with a banner between them that reads, "GOT PORK."
That's a statement, not a question.
The swine tattoo, located on the chest of famous chef Michael Symon, is just one of many that celebrate his passion for food. Symon has had a meteoric rise as a restaurateur, author, and TV show host, probably
best known as one of Food Network's Iron Chefs.
But Cleveland's native son has another passion. He's a diehard sports fan. A sports junkie. And his ties to the city's pro franchises run deeper than most know.
Symon teamed up with Quicken Loans Arena and Aramark a couple years ago so Cavs fans could enjoy some of his creations at the games. He tried bribing LeBron James with his culinary skills last summer before "The Decision." Symon's free-agent offer to the King was for one Iron Chef-style dinner every month for his family and friends if he would stay. But even though it didn't work out, Symon doesn’t hold any grudges.
"Clevelanders don’t like it when I say it, but in LeBron's time in the city he was very good to us. He did a lot of charity work. I don't know what happened. Unfortunately he didn't stay. But like anything in life, you move on and you move forward," Symon says. "I never had a problem with LeBron the person, I had a problem with the way he handled leaving. That's something I'd say to him face to face. And I think he has regrets about the way he handled it too."
Symon also has a connection to the Indians. As a young baseball assistant, Mark Shapiro would frequent Caxton Café, one of the restaurants where Symon cut his teeth. The two came up together in their own respective fields, and now Shapiro serves as Tribe team president.
"Mark's a good buddy of mine. I used to kid him, 'Why do you have to do all this baseball stuff? Why can't you run the football team?'," Symon says with his trademark laugh. "It would be so much more beneficial to me."
For so many Clevelanders, it all comes back to the Browns. Symon is no exception. He used to brave the frigid weather to watch them in person season after season. Then one year his schedule forced him to miss a few games. That's when it dawned on him: 'Why am I freezing my ass off at the stadium every week when I can see the games better at home?' So he has eight or 10 guys over every Sunday and cooks up a big spread. It sounds like the ideal game-day experience. But then there's the superstition.
"If the Browns are rolling, no one eats, no one goes to the bathroom, no one changes their breathing. That's just how it is," he says. "And because I bring the grub, no one seems to mind my odd rules."
To hear about the spreads he's laid out, it's definitely worth the hassle. Back in his tailgating days Symon would roast a whole hog or make a giant pot of chili. These days, perfection is some brats and kielbasa soaking in beer in a pot on the edge of the grill.
Symon isn't just a fan; many of the Browns players are regulars at his restaurants. He says he was never concerned about the lockout because he had inside info. Nevertheless, he's ecstatic that no games will be missed. He's ready for Colt McCoy and company to hit the field again.
Speaking of the young quarterback, Symon is drinking the Kool-Aid.
"I'm in. I'm pot committed," he says. "I don't know if it's cause I'm a Browns fan, but McCoy has that spark and swagger. I think we’re gonna go good places with him."
Doesn't hurt to have Peyton Hillis to hand the ball off to, either. Symon expects him to have a great follow-up to his breakout season, provided he stays healthy.
"I’m a little worried about the Madden curse," he says. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. But the guy's a beast. If you stand next to him he could block out the sun."
Maybe Hillis will end up on Symon's fantasy football team. He always keeps at least one Brown on his roster. And no, he's not in some celebrity chef league with Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay. He's been in the same league of old friends since 1990.
"When we started doing fantasy football, we didn’t know who won until Wednesday," he says. "Being commissioner was a full time job."
Symon knows plenty about those. He and his partners will have six restaurants in Northeast Ohio by the end of the year. They also have one in Detroit called Roast. Outside of his Food Network responsibilities, Symon has two more cookbooks in the works and can be seen on the new ABC roundtable "The Chew" starting September 26. He's hopeful the public will take to a show that gets to discuss everything from recipes to nutrition on a daily basis.
He's also hopeful for his Browns, who won just five games last season.
"I'm the eternal optimist," he says. "I'm gonna say 9-7. But I wouldn't be disappointed with 7-9."
And if his team ever comes through, those cherub pigs may just get some tattoo company.
"If the Browns win a Super Bowl, maybe I'll get a little Brownie somewhere on my body, much to my wife’s dismay," Simon says, again with his distinct laugh. "God please let them win one before I die."
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