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. Sophia says:

    I was really hoping to see Amanda and Geoffrey in the final round. If a regular contestant had left that many bones (as Aaron) in his fish, he'd have been SO Chopped!

    Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I really like Geoffrey – moreso after this show, where we saw more of his actual personality – and Alex. I recently saw her on another show and she is quite personable. You have to remember, they don't show all the comments made by the judges and I'm pretty sure some comments and responses are out of context. And they go out of their way to make the judges look formidable. If you look closely, you can sometimes see they are making a real effort to keep those stern looks. (My husband is convinced it's all scripted, but I still hold out hope it's not.)

    {Minorities get Chopped first? Do you WATCH the show?!}

    • PK1 says:

      Yes, thought the same thing, if anyone else had left that many bones, they would have been chopped..
      I too saw a side of Geoffrey that was much more approachable, he comes off as so stern, and unyielding, but the camaraderie was evident and his comments about working hard and taking after
      his father were very touching…..
      Thanks FN for showing us the human side of the judges! Very enjoyable!

    • gypsycook says:

      I am confused by your little side comment? {Minorities get Chopped first? Do you WATCH the show?!} are you saying that they do or don't?? Because if you are saying they do I am really confused since Arron would fit that and he won???

  2. Rachel says:

    Unfortunately, I had to miss last night's episode and I was really looking forward to it. Will it be re-aired? When?

  3. Dotty says:

    I think Anne Burrell is a very excellent and wonderful chef. I think the finale will be Anne and Aaron with the dessert round the decider. Chef Aaron is a great chef but sometimes he gets sidetracked by ethnic food. Not that this is bad but it directs him into a definite food pattern. Good luck to all.

  4. cheryll says:

    I really enjoyed Geoffrey was hoping he would get the final spot

  5. Andy Garcia says:

    I recently saw an episode of Chopped featuring Geoffrey Z as a judge, and I was very disappointed with his behavior and a comment he made to one of the contestants. First, arguing with someone(a contestant on the show) who is under pressure just makes you look like a pretentious jerk. Second, when you stated that your fish was overcooked(it looked a little over done on one side, certainly not burnt), that is YOUR opinion. Like it or not. Ever seen dried fish, fish jerky, or intentionally burnt fish, meat, etc.? I think Ted Allen should teach him the difference between opinion and fact. Facts can be proven. Opinions are what you think personally, and this should be basic criteria for any judge to be able to tell the difference.

  6. philybreeze says:

    Met Geoffrey today at Newark airport. Wow what a nice guy. Thanked me for watching. Made my day called everyone I know. Still smiling from ear to ear.

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