The Iron Chef Went Down to Nashville

September 14, 2008 at 12:50 am

Ryman Auditorium

Ryman Auditorium

Originally posted at Edible TV on September 9, 2008.

As a former resident of Nashville I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Dinner: Impossible where Chef Michael Symon had to cook a meal for Country/Southern Rock legend Charlie Daniels. Symon’s first stop was the immortal Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville where he met Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen (he was Nashville’s mayor during my days in Music City).

For those who did not grow up with the Grand Ole Opry playing a major part of their childhood then the sheer weight of standing in the Ryman will likely be lost. For most of the 20th Century the Ryman was the home of the Opry and many a star has graced this hallowed stage like Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams (the first one), comedians Jerry Clower and Minnie Pearl, and long time host Roy Acuff. The front lobby of the auditorium includes a simple park bench with the bronze figures of Acuff and Pearl as they share of laugh. My first visit and consequent view of this site sent chills up my spine. For a Southerner, this place is the Eiffel Tower and Stonehenge rolled into one.

From there Symon made the 45 minute drive out to the new home of the Grand Old Opry, the aptly named Grand Old Opry House at the Opryland Resort. The Opryland Resort is the largest hotel in the world not located in the city of Las Vegas. Symon is given the keys to the groceries found within the hotel’s many gourmet restaurants. A favorite spot of mine when I lived in Nashvegas was the Cascades in the Atrium of the main hotel. Oddly enough the executive chef at the time is now a fellow chef here in the Mobile area, Mike Wallace of the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort in Point Clear, Alabama.

When the challenge was issued of cooking dinner for 300 country music fans (well 301 if you count Daniels) in eight hours with the full Opryland Resort (it also houses a culinary school) at his disposal it seemed like a gimme. But Symon and his team were thrown a series of road blocks. They had to theme their menu around the CDB classic The Devil Went Down To Georgia. The only food item mentioned in the song was chicken. The only chicken in the hotel was boneless, skinless breast meat. Symon’s pride in his art left him no choice but to scratch the inferior product from the menu.

Another obstacle for Symon and crew was that the chef himself was required to join country music newcomer James Otto on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. Again memories of my time in Nashville came rushing back as Symon (donning a Porter Wagoner approved glitzy rodeo shirt) strolled onto a stage far different than the one he is used to in Kitchen Stadium. And far more intimidating as well. I, too, have stood on that stage in front of that crowd and faced the decades of tradition that surround it. My result? A standing ovation – one of the proudest moments of my life.  Symon also found the folks of Middle Tennessee cordial and gracious. They would later find his food remarkable.

In fact, they would demand his culinary creations be delivered in less than the alloted eight hours. That of course was the last of the encumbrances to Symon and his crew. But as usual the Iron Chef came through with a stunning menu that pleased all if not totally overwhelmed them, even Charlie.


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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."


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