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Grilled In a Minute: Geoffrey Zakarian

Julie Mautner / May 10th, 2012

Originally hailing from Worcester, Massachusetts, Geoffrey Zakarian has presided over some of the country’s top kitchens. He received his training at The Culinary Institute of America and went on to his first job at Le Cirque in New York City in 1982. Over the next five years, working under Alain Sailhac, he climbed his way up from pastry sous chef to chef de cuisine. During this formative period, Zakarian traveled extensively and staged across Europe at such restaurants as Arpège and Au Quai des Ormes in Paris, Auberge de l’Ill in Alsace, The Dorchester in London, Le Chantecler with Jacques Maximin in Nice, and Pierre Orsay in Lyon.

Zakarian got his first shot as executive chef in 1987, at the legendary 21 Club in New York City. He was hired soon after by restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow in 1988 to be executive chef of 44 at the Royalton Hotel, which he helped transform into an emblem of 1980s chic. He went on to open the Blue Door at the Delano Hotel in Miami in 1995.

Back in New York City, Zakarian became executive chef of Ken Aretsky’s Patroon in 1997, and, in 2001, he opened the first of his own restaurants, Town. The New York Times awarded both restaurants three stars. Following up on the success of Town, Zakarian opened Country, which earned a Michelin star in its first year, as well as earning another three-star rating from the Times. Zakarian took on a new challenge in 2007 when he signed on to develop and oversee the f&b program at the 700 room hotel The Water Club at Borgata (Atlantic City).

In 2010, Zakarian opened both The Lambs Club (at The Chatwal Hotel, NYC), featuring modern American cuisine in a luxury bar and grill setting, and The National (at The Benjamin Hotel, NYC), his take on a European-style grand cafe. In June 2011, he opened Tudor House at Dream South Beach, serving modern American beach fare.

Today, Zakarian is chef/partner at The Lambs Club, The National, and Tudor House. Geoffrey Zakarian’s Town/Country was published by Clarkson Potter in 2006. The cookbook was named an Editor’s Choice by the New York Times Book Review and lauded as “…one of the best books of 2006” by food critic Amanda Hesser.

Zakarian credits his ability to stay relevant with his quest for timelessness and an enduring love of restaurants. “I still dream of techniques I can apply to pull intense and interesting flavors out of food,” he says. “I dine out all the time, first because I love it, but secondly because, as a chef, you need to see restaurants from the dining room perspective, not just from the kitchen. You have to be vigilant about every facet of the meal.”

Recently, Zakarian competed in the fourth season of Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, Super Chefs and came out the victor. He now appears regularly on Iron Chef America. Zakarian is also a recurring judge on CHOPPED, and shares his favorite dishes with fans on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Margaret, and their two daughters. For more info: geoffreyzakarian.com.

Whew, that’s quite a bio! Tell us what you remember about the moment when you decided you wanted to be a chef.
When I saw a well-dressed chef and his well-dressed wife, running a swell joint in Paris.

And what didn’t they teach you in culinary school?
How to balance work, family, and friends. You have to make time for all.

Where did you have your last truly great restaurant meal (other than your own place, of course!)?
Masa, at the Time Warner Center in New York City.

After a long night in the kitchen, where would you go for a bite to eat?
I usually go home. My wife and I have a pot of tea together.

If you could work with one chef, alive or dead…who would it be and why?
My aunt Anna. She kept all of her secrets, and I desperately want them.

You can drink just one wine for the rest of your life. What is it?
Rosé.

What’s the one cookbook (other than your own) you use most often?
Gwyneth Paltrow’s My Father’s Daughter. My kids love the recipes.

Who was your mentor? In what ways did they nurture you and your career?
Alain Sailhac and Sirio Maccioni. They both instilled discipline and a strong work ethic.

For an eating trip, where in the world would you go right now…and why?
Probably Portugal and Sicily. There is a small-time sensibility to these locations that accentuates natural ingredients of the region.

What was the very worst day of your culinary career so far? And the very best day?
The worst day-is just that I did not enter the culinary world sooner. And the best day was seeing the reaction of my one year old daughter when she tasted her first crisp apple!

What is the one thing you would like most to change about yourself?
I’d like the ability to work even harder.

Describe the TV show you’d love to do if you could. Got a fantasy show in mind?
A remake of the Galloping Gourmet.

What is the hardest part of your job?
The hours are kinda brutal.

If not this career, then what?
Classical pianist.