Celebrity chef Michael Symon may be best known from his appearances on the Food Network TV shows Iron Chef America, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and Burgers, Brew and ‘Que, but he’s currently getting buzz about his embracement of plant-based eating.

Though he originally began dabbling in meatless cooking simply because his wife is vegetarian, Symon now embraces plant-based foods because he believes it makes him a more adventurous eater and a better chef.

He’s even partnered with Field Roast to promote mouth-watering plant-based comfort foods like vegan mac and cheese, just in time for the holidays! I chatted with Symon about his favorite plant-based holiday dishes and his tips for transitioning to a more plant-based lifestyle.

The Beet: What made you want to go more plant-based?

Chef Michael Symon: I’ve always included a lot of plant-based foods in my diet.  Early on, it was purely because of my wife, Liz, who has been vegetarian for over 20 years, but as I continued to get out of my own comfort zone, it not only made me a more adventurous eater but a better chef.

TB: What is your favorite plant-based meal to make from scratch?

MS: It’s always hard for me to pick a favorite dish…it’s like having a favorite child or dog, but I do make a pretty great mushroom Bolognese that we enjoy often.

TB: Can you tell me about your partnership/relationship with Field Roast? How did that come about?

MS: Of course! So, I started working with Field Roast earlier this year. I was originally drawn to their brand because my wife Liz had been a vegetarian for over 20 years and I enjoyed their high quality and bold taste experiences. As a chef who loves to explore various palates and takes pride in my dishes, those two things were very important to me. Field Roast has truly inspired me and pushed me to create some of my best plant-based dishes through my partnership with them.

TB: What are some of your favorite Field Roast products and recipes using them?

MS: That’s a hard one! There are so many flavorful products that Field Roast has to offer, but if I had to choose it would be smoked apple and sage sausage.

TB; What has surprised you most about plant-based faux meats and cheeses?

MS: Something that really came as a surprise when I started working with plant-based meat alternatives and dairy-free cheeses was how seamlessly they worked as substitutes in some of my favorite dishes. Field Roast does such a great job at creating bold flavors that are adventurous in a way that makes cooking and recipe creation feel exciting.

TB: I'm a huge fan of your various cooking shows (Shout out to Burgers, Brews, and Que!) and I know that many of us would love to see more plant-based proteins featured on the shows. Can we expect to see more plant-based meals and restaurants featured in 2021?

MS: Plant-based meals are in high demand from consumers and restaurant-goers right now - we are seeing more people expecting these sorts of offerings in a restaurant dining experience As that movement continues to grow, I believe we will see more and more plant-based dishes on cooking shows.

TB; What are some of your favorite plant-based holiday dishes? Can you share your favorite vegan recipe (or two) for the winter holidays?

MS: One of my favorite plant-based winter recipes right now is my Savory Bread Stuffing, which is a delicious, savory stuffing recipe featuring Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Sausage, sage, thyme, chili flakes, tart cherries, kosher salt, and fresh black pepper with diced French baguette and Italian loaf to make up the breaded portion of the stuffing.

Another recipe I love is my Grilled Portobellos with Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast and Potato Puree. I prepare the Roast per package instructions and serve with grilled portobellos and potato puree to compliment the flavor. This has been one of Liz’s favorites.  Portobello mushrooms to be prepared with garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, and olive oil seasoned with salt & pepper. Simple to prepare and serve.

TB: What tips do you have for meat-eaters that are trying to transition to a more plant-based lifestyle?

MS; I have a few tips that have proven to be very helpful when I share with friends and family interested in exploring plant-based eating.

  • One of my favorite quotes from Julia Child is “everything in moderation, including moderation”. And I think that is something that really applies. I am I life-long meat eater and Liz had been a vegetarian for over 20 years so I have always been able to enjoy the balance of meat and meat alternatives.  Which is not only a healthier way to eat but is good for our environment.
  • Find a great meat alternative brand, like Field Roast that works for you. Plant-based meat offerings really help spice things up in the kitchen and provide more exciting options than salads or plain vegetables.
  • Get into recipe creation. You’d be surprised at the flexibility you can have with your meals without meat if you stay creative and keep an open mind.

TB: What plant-based snacks do you add into your daily routine?

MS: I eat a lot of fruit and nuts since childhood…I can go through 3 pints of blueberries in a day no problem…I also have a weakness for salt and vinegar chips.

TB: How do you get your protein? Other nutrients?

MS: My diet is pretty diverse and balanced so it is never much of a problem for me, but I do also love nut butter and quinoa.

TB: Do you plan to go fully vegan or plant-based and not eat meat, dairy, or fish?

MS: I don’t. I like the balance of eating different foods and the experiences they bring.  I consume very little dairy already for auto-immune reasons.

TB: What do you think of the fact that nearly 25 percent of Americans say they are eating more plant-based foods?

MS: That statistic isn’t surprising to me at all. Plant-forward eating is a huge trend right now and I’m all for it!

TB: What is your one desert-island piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without?

MS: A rasp….I love zest!!

TB: What are three things that we’ll always find in your pantry? Your fridge? Your car (snacks?)

MS: Blueberries…really good peanut butter…San Marzano tomatoes…salted cashews or pistachios

TB: How do you plan to celebrate the holidays?

MS: Typically, with lots of family and friends. Liz and I host most of them since we love to cook and entertain.

TB: Any words that you live by? A mantra? Something that sums it all up for you?

MS: Open your heart and your mind will follow.