When it comes to culinary icons, Michael Symon has definitely made a name for himself. Whether he was representing the country as one of our Iron Chefs or bringing the heat with BBQ Brawl and BBQ USA, he always brings a unique voice to the culinary scene.
Since at least May of 2021, Chef Simon has been working alongside Diplomatico Rum as part of their “Heart of Rum” campaign. As part of that campaign, he has helped to shine a light on the brand and their sustainability efforts, as well as giving followers recipes that allow them to incorporate this next level rum in dishes and cocktails.
And thanks to his partnership with Diplomatico Rum, we actually had the chance to chat with the chef about his work with the brand, how home chefs can incorporate rum into their cooking, holiday dishes, and our favorite question – what is his guilty eat!
Chef Michael Symon talks about his partnership with Diplomatico Rum
Guilty Eats: Can you tell us a little bit more about what inspired your partnership with Diplomatico Rum?
Michael Symon: “I don’t quite honestly do a lot of partnerships because I always feel that it has to be a brand that I’m very comfortable with and I believe in. And I liked the way they go about… we have similar feelings about the development of product and the quality in it. Diplomatico just checked so many boxes for me, it had that family feel to it. They are sustainable in the way they go about their business. They make a very top shelf, high quality product. And most importantly, it’s no different than food. I just love the way it tastes. So, it’s like, everything could sound good on paper, but if it tastes terrible, it really doesn’t matter, but you know, they do everything the right way. And then they also have this delicious product. So, it just felt like a very natural pairing to me. This is my second year, almost two and a half years with them now and you know, I really, really enjoy the partnership.
GE: You mentioned sustainability, so what is it about Diplomatico and their sustainably efforts that you really appreciate as a chef?
MS: “The thoughtfulness of how they go about the production of their product. How its produced, they’re very conscious of the amount of water and where it’s going, and then also doing things like hiring locally and doing those kinds of things. I know that’s not sustainable in the food sense, but I think it’s very sustainable in the community sense. So, they have a tremendous sense of community and are very respectful of the land around them. And I just think that that makes a very big difference in the world to understand your footprint. They understand their footprint.”
GE: Do you have a favorite cocktail that you’ve made with Diplomatico?
MS: “There’s a lot of them that we really enjoy. I mean, I’m a lover of Old Fashions. So making the New Fashion or Old Fashion with the Diplomatico, I think is fantastic. The Reserve I just love having it with just a cube. I mean, to me, it’s delicious. We made one where, speaking of sustainable, we reserved the banana peels and made a simple syrup with the banana peels and then worked that into the cocktail. And when we were playing around with it, to me I’m like, ‘Ooh, this is going to be too sweet.’ Like it’s just going to be too much for me, but it was insanely delicious, dangerous. I will say Dangerously Delicious.”
Check out Michael Symon and Diplomatico Rum’s recipe for the Low-Impact Banana Peel Daiquiri here.
GE: So you mentioned things being too sweet, are you more of a salty person or do you like mixing it up?
MS: “I like balance. I think when there’s sweet there needs to be salty. When there’s heat, there needs to be sweet. When there’s fats, there needs to be acidity.
I don’t like one note things. Like if I take a bite of food, I don’t want it to taste all like fat, or all hot or all sweet. I like there to be balance. And it’s the same way with cocktails. I like a cocktail that it’s a little bit of those sweet notes but then you get a touch of acidity and I just like balance.
It’s weird because I’m from the Midwest but like my example of a food that just doesn’t [work for me] is a real rich meat over mashed potatoes with gravy. That doesn’t work for me. There’s no excitement there for me. The first bite, you’re like, ‘Ooh, this is good.’ But then it’s just kind of like whatever. I want there to be some crunch, some textures, some flavor breaks, and I feel the exact same way about cocktails.”
GE: So what are some of your favorite ways to elevate a menu?
MS: “I think one of the things that I’ve been enjoying doing with the Diplomatico, especially around the holiday time, is we roasted a turkey but we made the baste with the Rum. So we can be basting it with the rum and the butter as we go. If you use the Reserva for example, or some of the different Rums, you could create like that orange peel flavor, that toffee flavor, that licorice flavor in your baste while you’re roasting a turkey. It’s pretty cool.
I feel like it’s one of those great ways where it’s like slightly cheating and in the sense that Diplomatico did all the work and you get the benefit of the flavor bomb.”
GE: Do you have any tips for home cooks who want to add rum into their cooking, but who might be a little bit nervous about it?
MS: “I think you just do it, you know? It’s like people always say, they’re like that old saying, ‘what wine do you cook with?’ Well, the same one that you drink. So I think it’s the same with rum. It’s like taste the rum. Decide which flavor profiles you’d like the best. Be smart, add a little bit and taste, add a little bit, taste.
Home cooks should always remember that a recipe is like a guide, not a law. I bought my dad, years ago, a Rick Bayless cookbook because he liked watching Rick Bayless on TV and he made a recipe and he was like I don’t like the recipe. I said, ‘what don’t you like about it?’ He said, ‘I hate cilantro.’ I said, ‘Well, why did you put cilantro?’ And he’s like, ‘because the recipe said too.’ I’m like Dad, you could have put in basil, parsley, you know? And so it’s the same. I think it’s that way with everybody. So if you’re experimenting with rum and cooking, do a lot of tasting as you go on, and you’re gonna find your mark.
I don’t think there’s any reason to be timid about it. I just think that you use your own personal palate, everybody’s is a little bit different, to be your guide. And you’re gonna find your mark and then you’re going to be in a happy place.”
GE: What is your favorite holiday dish?
MS: “It’s the one that brings back the most memories for me. We call it corn pudding. It’s my grandfather’s corn pudding. It’s always on my table at Thanksgiving. And it’s hilarious because it is the least chef-y dish of all time.
When I first graduated from culinary school, and I was at my grandparents and I was watching them make it. It was instant corn pudding, canned creamed corn and all this stuff. And, you know, I just got out of school. I was like 20 years old, and I’m like, I’m gonna make this the right way and I made my own cream corn. I got beautiful polenta. Like I made it and my family had it and they’re like, this is awful. You’ve ruined the dish!
I literally make this straightforward, and I’ve even done it on Food Network before, where I make it and people are always like, ‘oh my god, the Iron Chef just used instant corn pudding, canned cream corn and all this stuff.’ It’s like against everything I stand for, kind of, as a chef, but it brings me back to childhood. And I’ve never fed it to another human that didn’t love it. So I look forward to it every year. I only eat it on Thanksgiving and I just love it.”
GE: So, we are called Guilty Eats so I cannot end the conversation without asking what is your guilty eat?
MS: “This is an easy one for me. So it’s Lays Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips with Lawson’s, which is a Cleveland brand French Onion Dip…And when I’m feeling really fancy and bougie I put a little bit of caviar on it.”
For more tips, tricks, and inspiration from Michael Symon and Diplomatico Rum, check out the brands Instagram account.