Chef Spotlight: Interview with Geoffrey Zakarian

An Accomplished Chef, Host and Culinary Consultant

With a career spanning three decades, chef restauranteur Geoffrey Zakarian has become known for his signature style and admired for his sophisticated taste. After holding the executive chef position at some of the country’s most renowned restaurants he went on to open his first, Town, in 2001. As it turns out, Zakarian was able to take the heat and stayed in the kitchen, with many accolades to his name. In 2011 he added another as the winner of season four of Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, Super Chefs. Chef Zakarian shared with us a few of the ingredients for his success…

Geoffrey ZakarianYou held your first position as an Executive Chef at Maxwell Plums. What were some of the most important things you learned in your time there?

One of the most important things that I learned there was how to use a wood burning oven. I made pizzas and all sorts of dishes using the wood. These are skills that I use today and I even drew on them during an Iron Chef challenge where I had to build fire and cook outdoors. A wood burning oven is all about making the wood charcoal and the heat. There is nothing like the flavor you can get from using one. I put a wood burning grill in one of my new restaurants, The National, in Greenwich, CT just for this reason. You can smell the aroma outside on the street!

You also were the executive chef at 44 at the Royalton Hotel. This was a time of a sort of re- birth for the glamor of hotel restaurants. You currently own and operate two hotel restaurants in NYC, The Lambs Club at The Chatwal Hotel and The National at The Benjamin Hotel. What is it about the atmosphere or energy that draws you to this type of space?

Restaurants are 24-hour a day operations, but when you are in a hotel, it takes that meaning to a new level. I like the challenge of providing exceptional food and service around the clock. Additionally, hotels bring in such an interesting mix of people – from international travelers and business people to families and neighbors looking for an escape. I really enjoy partnering with hotel operators and taking care of their guests just the same as they do.

If we’re coming into The Lambs Club for a post theater dinner on a chilly September evening, what dish and cocktail pairing would you recommend?

Our menus change with the seasons, but that time of year is when I start to crave my version of comfort food. I’d start with a steak tartare, have one of the house made pastas, then order the chicken or the duck. For cocktails, it’s the Mad Man Cosmo or a classic Gold Rush.
Steak Tartar

Now it’s breakfast time and we’re coming to The National. We don’t want something too heavy but just enough to hold us over for a day in the city. What do we order?

The omelet – the fillings rotate depending on the time of year, and to me there’s no better dish to judge a chef’s abilities. Our omelets are of the French variety, meaning absolutely no color on the outside, and the eggs are soft and creamy on the inside.

More than ten years ago, you became the first NY chef to earn three consecutive Three Star reviews from The New York Times. Which ideals that you set forth in your restaurants then do you still apply today and what are some changes you’ve made to your approach?

I have always believed that if you are going to do something, it needs to be done right the first time. I won’t open a restaurant if I’m not a part of every aspect of the process, which is why I’m so proud of every detail in the end. That has certainly not changed over the years – if anything it has intensified!

After so much success in the business what made you decide to take on the challenge of Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, Super Chefs?

I always want to challenge myself, and at the time that was the perfect opportunity to do so. It was out of my comfort zone, and I had to opportunity to cook with some of the world’s most renowned chefs.

With more than two decades in the business, do you think you’ve already experienced the most exciting times of your career or should we expect to continue to see big things on the horizon?

I am blessed to have such an amazing career, but I am determined to go even farther. For certain, the best is yet to come!