Explore New York City

Conversation with TV Personality, Chef and Restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian

Soft-spoken celebrity chef and TV personality and Geoffrey Zakarian talks food, France, family and what it takes to be an Iron Chef.

Known for his keen wit and affinity for fashionable eyewear, soft-spoken celebrity chef, TV personality, author and restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian is a household name on the NYC food scene—he helms three popular Big Apple eateries (Chef/Owner of The Lambs Club & The National, plus Culinary Director of The Plaza)—and also reaches the masses via his many small-screen endeavors such as Chopped, Iron Chef America and The Kitchen, as well as his popular cookbooks. At a recent tasting event for the launch of Jean de Lillet 2010, he shared with Where his passion for food, France, family and what it takes to be an Iron Chef.

You are quite the celebrity chef, with several shows on the Food Network, including the uniquely talk show-formatted The Kitchen—can you tell us about that particular show?

We’ve already done five seasons of The Kitchen and the network loves us, people love us and it seems to be working. We have five personalities and that’s the fun of it. If someone messes up, we can just poke fun at each other. What’s great about the show is there’s a lot of information that goes out—there’s food, recipes, trends, questions from the audience…all kinds of stuff. It’s also a lifestyle show, so we integrate it all.

The Kitchen features a lot of trivia; so, for those that fancy themselves home chefs, what’s one fun food fact everyone should know?

It’s one of those businesses like riding a bike or playing the piano, you have to fall down and make a few mistakes because that’s how you learn. To make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs. But, unlike riding a bike, if you make a mistake, you eat it.

The National
The National (Courtesy The National)

How does it feel to be an Iron Chef?

It was a great process and a grueling contest. And, it came out of nowhere; someone just asked me if I wanted to compete on the show. We really had a great group of chefs and head chefs—any one of them could have been an Iron Chef. The contest itself is so difficult, and I always tell people it wasn’t the cooking that was the most difficult; it was the physicality that was most stressful—cooking in stadiums, making your own fire, running up hills with 70 pounds of pork…but staying sharp and getting through it was the hard part. Cooking is like riding a bike and every cook that competed, once they got in the kitchen, all had their game faces on. You have to be ready to loose or win on any given day, no matter how good you are.

We recently spoke with your Chopped co-star Marc Murphy about what sparked his culinary aspirations. When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

I think my parents groomed me to be a chef. I’m from a Middle Eastern family and everything was food, food, food. We talked about food all day long. Then, I went to France for a short time after college and I loved the culture and the cuisine. It was a passion for me, and then I thought ‘What am I doing?’ and changed careers. I originally studied economics. 

Being a business owner, the economics background must come in handy?

I hope it came in handy, but the jury’s still out on that one (chuckling).

Speaking of running a business, you own three restaurants in New York, what can diners expect at each space?

We just re-launched The Palm Court at The Plaza, so that’s a big endeavor. We retrofitted it, designed a whole other level and added tea and cocktails. To me, The National is like a chic neighborhood café. When I travel to other cities and discover what they’re all about, that’s the type of place I’m looking for. The Lambs Club is a luxurious restaurant with great American food and a fun vibe. 

What’s you biggest accomplishment?

My three children.

Why did you partner with Lillet?

I’ve always loved the brand and I love the visual aspect of the bottle. When given the opportunity for a partnership, I thought ‘definitely, this is for me.’ And, drinking it is something I can understand from a chef’s point of view.

For more on Geoffrey Zakarian, visit his website and tune in to The Food Network’s Chopped (Tues., 10 p.m.), Iron Chef America (Sun., 10 p.m.), The Kitchen (Sat., 11 a.m.) and The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs (Season Four, On Demand). Also check out his Sirius XM radio show, Food Talk, and, of course, try creative cuisine at one of his NYC outposts.