WEB EXTRA: Creative force behind Coggins competes on “Iron Chef”

Students know him from contributions to works such as “The Guido,” “Brawny Beef” and “Turkey Cool Ranch.” He had his own television show on the Food Network. He owns two restaurants. And now Michael Symon has another accolade under his belt: a competition against the Iron Chef.

“The Iron Chefs typically don’t lose,” said Michael Symon, the creative force behind the menu for Coggins’ Sandwich Manufactory. Symon proved to be the rule, not the exception, losing to chef Masaharu Morimoto on the competitive cooking show earlier this year. His competition aired Oct. 2 through 9 on the Food Network.

“Morimoto’s one of the original Iron Chefs, and I have the utmost, utmost respect for what he does,” Symon said of one of the show’s house chefs. “He’s one of the most creative chefs of our generation.” Symon dedicated his performance to himself, his restaurants and Coggins’.

“Iron Chef America” is based on the Japanese show in which guest chefs compete against in-house chefs to prepare a meal and impress judges based on style and taste.

Symon joined Coggins’ through a friendship he developed by cooking meals for the principal owner of the restaurants, Ross Farro, who lives in Cleveland but owns restaurants in Washington, D.C., including local T.G.I. Friday’s outlets and Coggins’.

“Ross was a regular at my restaurant,” Symon said in a phone interview from his Ohio home. “We just kind of became friends from him dining here all the time. He mentioned to me he was going to open up a sandwich concept and asked if I would help develop the types of sandwiches.”

Symon said he jumped at the opportunity.

“It was something interesting for me to do because I had never done anything that casual before,” Symon said.

“A great deal of our menu is Michael’s,” Coggins’ operations manager Ron Boatwright said.

The first branch of Coggins’ opened in GW’s Ivory Towers in August 2004, and a second branch followed in Fairfax, Va., in February 2005. Boatwright said GW’s branch has a “captive audience” and “constant business” compared to the Fairfax store.

“D.C. is just a growing and vibrant area,” Boatwright said. “We’ve had tremendous success. I cannot say enough about how we feel about our relationship with the students and with GW.”

In September, a D.C. District Court denied a motion by Potbelly Sandwich works, Coggins’ chief sandwich competitor in Washington, D.C., after the Illinois-based company filed a lawsuit against Coggins’ over a series of alleged similarities between the two popular lunch eateries.

Symon does not have to worry about any legal battles between competing sandwich shops, though – in fact, he has never been to the Ivory Towers Coggins’ because he is busy enough handling the two restaurants he owns in Cleveland. While it is usually the house chefs, such as Morimoto, who are famous, Symon himself has experienced his fair share of fame.

After being named a national “rising star” in 1997 by Restaurant Hospitality magazine and one of the “Ten Best New Chefs in America” by Food & Wine magazine, the Food Network contacted Symon about a guest appearance on “Iron Chef America.”

Television programming was no stranger to Symon, though, who for four years had a show on the Food Network called “The Melting Pot.”

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