After years as the highly regarded executive chef for the award-winning, 325-seat Buddakan, in New York City’s, Lon Symensma has headed west to open ChoLon, a modern Asian bistro, in Denver, CO. With its open kitchen, the restaurant invites patrons to enjoy the total dining experience.
At first glance, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Iowa native might seem an unlikely representative for modern Asian cuisine. But his early experiences in the profession equipped the young chef with the necessary qualities to eventually lead the kitchen of Buddakan. Chef Symensma was only 14 when he took a job at a local diner and discovered how much he enjoyed the fast-paced, demanding environment of a professional kitchen. He began competing in the national culinary circuit and, at the age of 19, received an invitation to join Team USA at the 1996 Culinary Olympics in Berlin, Germany, where his team earned a silver medal. In 1997, the American Culinary Federation honored him with its National Junior Chef of the Year Award.
Confident in his decision to pursue a career as a chef, Chef Symensma enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America. After graduating in 1999, he traveled to the south of France, where he spent a year dividing his time between Roger Vergé’s Moulin Mougin and Jacques Chibois’ La Bastide Saint Antoine, both Michelin two-star restaurants. Chef Symensma went on to stage throughout Italy and Spain, including at San Sebastian’s famed Arzak.
In 2001, he joined Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his eponymous restaurant in New York City, where Chef Symensma developed a passion for Asian ingredients. Under the guidance of mentors Vongerichten and Gray Kunz, he spent six months traveling extensively throughout both Southeast Asia and China. While in Asia, Chef Symensma participated in the opening of Jean-Georges Shanghai and underwent intensive culinary training at both the Royal Garden Hotel in Hong Kong and the five-star Datai resort in Malaysia.
Back in the U.S., he became an opening sous chef at Spice Market, Chef Vongerichten’s revolutionary Southeast Asian restaurant that earned a three-star review from The New York Times. Chef Symensma went on to open Yumcha, a critically acclaimed Chinese restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village. His many professional achievements caught the attention of Philadelphia-based restaurateur Stephen Starr, who offered Chef Symensma a chef de cuisine position at his highly anticipated Buddakan in New York, which opened in 2006. By June 2007, Chef Symensma had been promoted to executive chef of the restaurant, which has earned two stars from “The New York Times”, received an Award of Excellence from “Wine Spectator”, and was named one of America’s Top 50 Restaurants by “Travel + Leisure”. In 2011, Lon too many of his CIA colleagues with him and opened ChoLon an Asian Bistro in Denver, CO.
Most recently, Chef Symensma executed a dinner at the prestigious James Beard House and instructed a cooking class for the exclusive De Gustibus Cooking School, both located in New York City. He is a regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio, is featured in the Fall 2009 issue of “Art Culinaire”, and has appeared in television programs such as “The Early Show” and “New York 1”.