Behind the All-Star Chopping Block With Geoffrey Zakarian

by in Shows, March 25th, 2011
Chef Geoffrey Zakarian faces off against three of his fellow Chopped judges this Sunday night.

There’s just one spot left in the Chopped All-Stars finale battle on April 3, and four esteemed chefs are determined to lock it down. In the previous three All-Star battles, some chefs didn’t quite know what they were getting into when they stepped onto the Chopped set. In Round Four, however, these chefs are intimately familiar with the intensity of the show — but they’re usually seated on the judges’ panel.

Geoffrey Zakarian, Aaron Sanchez, Amanda Freitag and Maneet Chauhan are accustomed to doing the chopping, not being on the chopping block, but all four were excited to turn the tables and compete for their favorite charities. We chatted with Chef Geoffrey about the experience of being a Chopped competitor, the camaraderie among his fellow judges, and where he’ll be watching the battle unfold this Sunday night.

Did you hesitate at all before signing on to compete on Chopped All-Stars, since you know just how tough it is?
I didn’t hesitate a bit. It was terrific, although it’s very difficult. I’ve done Iron Chef and this I believe is more difficult. Everything is wilderness. I mean, 20 minutes? It’s borderline impossible when you really come to grips with what you’re trying to do. It was as hard as I thought it would be. I was ready to do it, but when you get there in the morning it’s very nerve-wracking.

Did the experience change the way you judge at all?
We always knew it was hard, but this just really emphasized how hard it actually is. The reality is whether you get bad ingredients or good ingredients, it’s hard. It’s almost harder when you get good ingredients! When you’ve got rack of lamb, sometimes all the plates turn out the same. With some wild stuff, you get a small chance of putting together some very interesting combinations.

What’s the craziest basket you’ve ever seen on Chopped?
There have been some really wild ones. Every year I think I see the hardest one and then they just get harder. We had one recently with durian. There’s no reason to eat that unless you’re starving and that’s all there is to eat. The combinations are what you really remember. We are not at all hungry when we come to that set!

Favorite — or most unexpectedly good — dish you’ve sampled as a judge?
There’s not one at the top of my head, but there have been some really surprising and creative moments. That’s what we all look for as judges. We hope one of them will come up with something that’s really delightful. We are often disappointed.

Have the bizarre combinations from Chopped ever inspired any dishes on your menus?
I’ve written down a few combinations that worked. One was avocado with sweet lime, and there were a few more. Sometimes magically they just work. I’ve never really implemented any of them; I’m still waiting for that perfect one to come.

Aaron, Amanda, Geoffrey and Maneet will be watching the episode together in NYC, where they all have restaurants.

Have you become friends with your fellow Chopped judges? You’re all chefs around New York — do you visit each others’ restaurants in NYC?
Very close. We are all pretty busy but we all support each others’ restaurants. It’s a great group; we’re all very different. That’s what’s so nice about it. There are some new judges on this season [like Next Iron Chef Season 3 contestant Maneet Chauhan] so we’re the older faculty; we help them through their initial few Chopped episodes. They get it right away; their voice comes out.

Where will you be watching Chopped All-Stars on Sunday?
I will be watching with the other chefs at a somewhat impromptu Chopped judges party at Tribeca Grill. It is a potluck so all the chefs have to bring something to eat. Should be fun!

Catch Round Four of Chopped All-Stars this Sunday at 9pm/8c and check back in with the FN Dish on Monday for a behind-the-scenes recap from host Ted Allen.

For more from Geoffrey, follow @gzchef on Twitter and join the #Chopped conversation during Sunday’s episode.

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Comments (46)

  1. Grill Guy says:

    This is so lame. Of course Ameet and Amanda are chopped right away. Tonight's judges have to protect their own…..Let's see…who do we have to work with most often? Let's keep them in as long as possible.

    • gypsycook says:

      Huh??? Amanda is a judge on Chopped on a fairly regular basis, God why is it that if the person you were rooting for loses everyone screams foul? Did you taste the food?? No so you don't know how paletable it was do you? Good God people are so ready to judge what they can't taste so don't know !

  2. Todd says:

    I don't think anyone stands a chance against Chef Anne

  3. amia says:

    I find it very humorous that Geoffrey told them to poke open their souffle and pour the sauce in. I've watched episodes where a chef did a similar technique and Geoffrey was a pompas arse and told him very nastily, "I don't like to be told how to eat my food". What a hypocrite. So glad he was chopped.

  4. Guest says:

    I want Geoffrey's recipe for souffle. He mentioned that he used some sort of different method. They looked like towering high-rise buildings! Amazing.

  5. Patti says:

    I would love to see more of the judges face off against each other – sort of like an 'Iron Chef Chopped' show.

  6. kari says:

    Geoffrey Zakarian needs to apologize to the guy he tore apart for telling him how to eat on a previous Chopped. He snapped at him saying something like "I don't like being told how to eat. I know how to eat." Yet, tonight he told the judges how to eat his dessert.

  7. Wesley says:

    Geoffrey should have been chopped after the entree, why did he think he was given 10 extra minutes, also how did he get rid of all those fish bones in the pasta dish? A little favorotism I think.

    Plus "the old man" should apologize to the guy he told off for telling him how to eat , duhh, people know how to eat a soufflé. I am very happy he got chopped.

    Would have liked to see big mouth Scott and fat assed Alex work up a sweat and be judged.

    The best man won, way to go Aaron

  8. John from Ontonagon says:

    In addition to the comments above regarding 1) Geoffrey's failure to use the whole duck (something Amanda DID do, yet she was 'chopped'), and 2) Geoffrey telling the judges how to eat his dessert (amazing, since he doesn't like to be told how to eat HIS meal), why has Food Network gone so soft on the choice of the odd-ball ingredients? Why don't these "super chefs" get the geoducks, the durian, the goat brains, sheep kidneys, Buddha-fingers, eel, and the other weird stuff these judges expect the "regular" Chopped competitors to use successfully? Also, why wasn't that supremely pompous Alex Guarnaschelli among the All Star competitors? Did she fear she couldn't compete?

    • Lynda says:

      My husband was saying that very exact thing last night…both in regards to the strange food, and also in regards to Alex

      • gypsycook says:

        sometimes it isn't just about one food item but whether the items can be combined in a reasonable way? just because it doesn't have something that really stands out sometimes you should look at how what they have would go together? Though I would have liked to see these guys get some really random stuff most of use have never heard of lol

  9. Kenny Lima says:

    I truly have enjoyed the Chopped All-Star Series! The skill level and command of the kitchen these chefs have shown has inspiring and amazing to watch. I look forward to the final, which I believe will come down to Anne and Aaron! The dark horse though could be Michael, he certainly has some dramatic flair about him! Regarding episode 4, I was not a fan of Geoffrey's judging style nor of some of his critiques but I have come to respect him after this round. What came through to me was his passion for cooking and pleasure in creating great food. I feel I could understand his perspective a little better, a great practitioner always sets the bar high, but I do hope this experience helps him shape his assessments from the a place of having to be judged and that the food he judges are placed there by chefs just as passionate as he is about food. All in all a great program and I would ask it be an annual event, please?!?!

  10. Christine Lofgren says:

    If Geoffrey Zakarian has used more parts of the duck, he might have been the winner.

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