Like cars, luxury appliances are about power, performance and looks, but a good cook can cook on anything. I wanted to know what appliances a chef like Symon wants in his own kitchen — and what he doesn't. So I asked him.
Chef: Michael Symon
Restaurants: Lola, Lolita, Roast, Bar Symon, Bspot
TV shows: Iron Chef, The Chew, Symon's Suppers
Books: Carnivore, Live to Cook
Specialty: American cuisine
Q. What's your ideal kitchen layout?
A. Definitely an open kitchen, including an island with plenty of seating. I like an island for a couple of reasons: Typically if we have the room, I'd love to have the stovetop in the island, so everyone can sit around while I'm cooking and I can be part of the conversation. The island is the center of our house. We have breakfast there; we lay out food for parties there. Ideally I'd love to have an island that's big enough to hold the stovetop and seating and serving, but that's not always an option.
Q. And your ideal cooking appliance arrangement?
A. Range top with four burners and a French top and separate double ovens. One reason for the double ovens is that I like the height. If I'm cooking something I have to keep an eye on, then I put it in the top oven, while the lower oven is good for a longer braise or roast.
Even for a professional chef, there's still "out of sight, out of mind," and things like pine nuts I can put in the top oven with the light on and not forget about them.
I always thought I wanted a griddle, but I ended up never using it and keeping the stainless cover plate on it, and used it more as a landing spot. I really like the variable and consistent heat on a French top.
As for indoor gas grills, they're not really my thing. I'm one who likes to grill over open fire.
Q. What do you think of open burners versus closed burners for a range top? Electric versus gas oven?
A. Open gas burners over electric for sure. I love to see the heat as opposed to a dial telling me how hot it is. Electric ovens over gas — a more even heat that is great for baking and roasting.
Q. What one extra kitchen cooking gadget would you suggest for a home cook?
A. I don’t have one, but a steam oven would be great for home cooks — consistent heat, quicker cook times and more consistent results, and they're fantastic for roasting a chicken.
Q. Would you do an induction cooktop as a replacement to gas — or as a supplement?
A. Not a fan. Give me gas all the time — much easier to regulate, in my opinion.
Q. What dishes would you cook to test-drive a new appliance?
A. When someone is trying out for a job at one of our restaurants, which is called "a stage," I have them prepare an omelet, scrambled eggs and sunny-side-up eggs on the burners, and a chicken in the oven. These dishes not only show how the appliance performs but are the best ways to see how skilled a cook is.
Q. What sort of refrigeration arrangement would you want?
A. Drawers in my island and a large fridge in the pantry for big stuff, but for my new kitchen we don't have the room for that, so a bottom-freezer-style refrigerator will work just fine.
Q. What’s your ideal cleanup arrangement? Sinks first.
A. Large single-bowl sink — great for pots and pans. We do a lot of entertaining and a lot of stuff in large roasting pans etc. A double bowl is never big enough to clean that sort of thing. Love veg sinks in the island near cutting board surfaces. A pot filler or sink close to the cooking surface is really important. Not a fan of the main sink in the island. I prefer the cooktop in the island, and if I can't have that, then I'd want a prep sink. Once the party starts, [my wife] Lizzie loves to put ice and wine or champagne in the island sink.
Q. What about faucets? Few people really think about how they can make life easier depending on the design, but as much as I like function, I can't stand an unattractive faucet.
A. I prefer two-handle and side-spray options. I love commercial-style faucets — easy to use and plenty of range. I like having foot controls for the prep sink; they help keep things tidy.
Q. What’s your favorite backsplash material?
A. I'm a fan of classic subway tile — easy cleanup and timeless.
Q. Your favorite countertop material by the range? For an island? For prepping? For baking?
A. I like marble everywhere. It's easy to clean, holds up to heat and cold — durable. I know people worry about marble, but if you go to Europe, you see marble everywhere that's a bazillion years old, and it looks great. There's something about the way it patinas; the more it gets beat up, the better it looks, and not every material ages that way. Same with old pewter bars. They're gorgeous with rings and marks all over them.
Q. What’s your favorite material for a kitchen floor?
A. Tile, but with good cushy floor mats in front of the stove. These legs are old and tired!
Q. Your opinion on ideal lighting for a home kitchen?
A. Recessed on dimmers. I like a lot of bright light while cooking. But Lizzie likes to dim it down as soon as I am done.
Q. What ingredient could you not live without?
A. Salt. Impossible to cook without it. But I would also be really sad without citrus and vinegars!