Q&A With Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian

by in Shows, December 19th, 2011

There’s officially a new Iron Chef in Kitchen Stadium! Geoffrey Zakarian prevailed in the final showdown, a full-out Kitchen Stadium battle that celebrated the holiday feasts we’re all looking forward to right now. Now he’s joining the prestigious ranks of Marc Forgione, Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto, Cat Cora, Jose Garces and Michael Symon.

Iron Chef Zakarian is chef-partner at The Lambs Club and The National Bar and Dining Rooms in New York City and Tudor House in Miami. He’s also a veteran judge on Chopped. After surviving all 10 of the Chairman’s intense challenges, plus a couple of Secret Ingredient Showdowns, we have no doubt that he’ll have much success in Kitchen Stadium.

We sat down to chat with Zakarian about the intense Next Iron Chef experience. “It’s like the game of golf,” says the newly crowned Iron Chef, an avid golfer. “If you have a bad hole, you just go to the next hole and you have to get the last hole out of your head. Anybody can beat anybody any day of the week.”

Read on for our exclusive interview.

What inspired you to sign on for this competition? Have you always wanted to be an Iron Chef?

My agent called me and said, they watched you do Chopped Champions and they thought you’d be good for this competition. What do you think? And I said, well, what do you think? He said he thought it would be great and I said let’s do it. When you decide to do this, you don’t really think that you’re going to win it. I thought it would be fun, good to test my mettle; games are fun like that. Why not? I’ll try it.

How was the NIC experience different from battling on Iron Chef America as a challenger, or on Chopped All-Stars?

I got killed against Morimoto. I brought out white plates with food; I thought that was really nice. He brings out sculptures of ice, Noah’s ark made of balsa wood that he carved at his restaurant downstairs, smoking trees … When I saw that, I looked at my sous chef and I’m like, we’re toast.

On Chopped All-Stars it’s very difficult and you have a certain time constraint, but you’re in a very controlled environment. The kitchen’s here, the pantry’s here, it’s all very close. And even though it’s difficult, there’s not a lot of running. It’s just quick and fun and simple. And I’ve done it before so I know where everything is. Next Iron Chef, they make it as difficult as possible and tell you as little as possible. It’s physically demanding. I didn’t realize how physically demanding it was. It’s a blur.

The whole thing took about three months. I missed my family most of all. I have two kids. You’re in L.A. for two, three weeks — it’s not the end of the world, but it’s hard. Then we went to San Diego, then to New Jersey, then to Montauk. When we were here in New York, we were staying in hotels. They wouldn’t let you go home. So that was weird. I didn’t spend much time in the restaurant because any time I had, I was just resting.

Did you know all of the Super Chefs coming in?

I knew of all of them. I didn’t know Elizabeth Falkner and I didn’t know Spike Mendelsohn — I’d heard of him and I’d seen him on TV. But everyone else I would say I was on a friendly basis with.

Who did you see as your biggest threat on Day 1?

I never saw anyone as my biggest threat. The nature of the competition is that you’re your own worst enemy, so I would say. Anybody can beat anybody any day of the week. The most experienced can be beaten by the least experienced. There are plenty of great chefs out there. You look at their resume and you wonder why were they cut? They’re amazing. But it’s one battle at a time. You need to get through one battle. It’s like the game of golf. If you have a bad hole, you just go to the next hole and you have to get the last hole out of your head.

What was it like to compete against your Chopped colleague, Alex Guarnaschelli ?

We had a great time. We’re friends. She was breaking my chops a lot, calling me fancy pants and princess. She’s good at that. There’s no one better at that. She’s like the emcee of the show. She’s delightful. She’s so smart, erudite, well-written. She’s sarcastic and a great chef. It’s a nice way to spend time with people. She’s very interesting as a human being.

What was your favorite challenge throughout the whole competition?

It’s had to say any of them are my favorite, since you’re getting the crap kicked out of you every day. But when it comes to fascinating and really interesting, I would say the auction. It was fun, very smartly done. A lot of Shakespearean stuff came up, but I enjoyed that. I thought it was a great challenge.

Least-favorite challenge?

One that I had trouble with was the one at the comedy club. I just didn’t get it. It was more like a Chopped battle [with octopus, marshmallows, tortillas and kumquats]. But someone got it. So I can’t just throw that one away because I didn’t do well.

Will anything from NIC make its way onto one of your menus?

Oh, yeah. It already has. We’ve put a few things here and there. They took away our red books — where is my red book? [We have it.] So I forgot about all this stuff I did. I’m watching the show for the first time. Now I’m seeing it and stuff’s coming back that I made, so now when I get the book back, thank you very much, I can take some of that and use it. But we’ve done a couple of specials after they appeared on the show, like the artichoke barigoule and a crudo.

What was the best thing you saw a competitor make that made you think “I wish I’d thought of that”?

Michael [Chiarello] made a pasta [in the peanut Secret Ingredient Showdown] that was amazing. In 30 minutes he made fresh pasta. That’s unheard of.

Did you all taste each other’s food?

We couldn’t. We weren’t allowed because they took it away and that was it. We just saw it.

Where did you watch the show on Sunday nights?

At my house. Last week Chiarello was in town and he came over to watch it with us. I didn’t realize that was the one where he got cut! I was like oops, sorry! Have another glass of wine!

You guys have to stay pretty tight-lipped until these episodes air. Did your family even know that you won?

We didn’t tell anyone. There are people who will use deductive reasoning, like my partners. But I think we did a good job at muzzling everyone.

Have you completed your first battle as an Iron Chef yet?

I was shocked when they told me congratulations, you won, that’s the good news. Then the bad news is that you have six battles next week. That was a bit of a shocker. I was exhausted. And I had Chopped shooting that same week. I didn’t have a sous chef lined up; I thought that was bad karma to try to think ahead. So I scrambled. I scrambled the jets, took off and we bombed our target. I think it’s gone well.

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Comments (427)

  1. Reva Steppe says:

    WHY WAS CHEF Z THE WINNER WHEN HE CLEARLY DID NOT FOLLOW THE RULES??? HE FIRES OFF WHEN JUDGING CHOPPED AND A COMPETING CHEF DOES THAT!!!! BUT THEN HIS ARROGANT ATTITUDE PROVES ONCE AGAIN THAT HE THINKS HE IS ABOVE EVERYBODY ELSE AND HE GETS BY WITH IT….WHERE IS THE TRUTH AND HONESTY??? THIS SHOW IS WATCHED BY CHILDREN, PLEASE SET A BETTER EXAMPLE FOR OUR YOUTH. THIS SHOW IS ALL ABOUT DISCRIMINATION.

    • lindastephens says:

      I agree with your statement. Not only is this competition turned into a "Good Ole Boys Club" you even have just 1 female judge. If Chef Z is such a master why did he have to ask his opponent how long it took to make ice cream? REALLY !!!! I guess they like grumpy old men who shout at their help to GET OUT OF THE WAY while his opponent was cool polite and the real Iron Chef in my opinion. Come on Food Network stop the discrimination and stop the good ole boys club it is so obvious what is going on!!!!

      • Vern2012 says:

        There is nothing more hateful than a feminist! I am a woman and I think it is a crying shame that when a woman comes out on the losing end when competing against a man feminist cry foul! That is idiocy! Letting a woman win just because she is female is a travesty and those who support this kind of stuff are also.

    • Food4U says:

      Give it a rest. Game over.

  2. WestCoastFan says:

    OK. Big question here. What was Alex doing there?

    • LyndaS says:

      What do you mean? She was GZ's sous chef, helping with his battle.

      • WestCoastFan says:

        I know that but why? It's one thing to have her as a sous chef for NIC but on a regular IC battle. Odd to say the least.

        • LyndaS says:

          Maybe he thought of her as a good luck charm. Or maybe, she wanted to remain visible a bit longer. Maybe, she wanted to fill the role Anne Burrell had filled for Mario Batali. I guess only those two know the answer. We'll have to see if Alex remains as Geoffrey's sous chef or if she did it for his first battle.

        • mouse says:

          Zakarian does say above that he had to scramble to get ready for his first battle the week after he won. Maybe Alex helped him out as a favor for it? They appear to be pretty good friends. It'll be interesting to see if it's a permanent thing or just for the first one.

  3. Suzie Cupcake says:

    Alex G as Geoffrey's sous chef? I'm surprised!

    • jeri says:

      Why did that surprise you? He need a sous chef, she's an excellent chef, and they are good friends.

    • Dot says:

      Are you talking about Sunday's show? I cannot believe Alex's attitude toward Zakarian. He is the IRON CHEF, she isn't. SHe was rude and was telling Zakarian what to do and what not to do. And he kept calling her love and obeyed her commands. What a pussy. She may be a good cook, but her attitude and bossy demeanor are certainly turn offs. I would really like to know what her employees think about working with her. I can't stand her and I will not watch if she is on.

      • mouse says:

        Please, she was telling him the soup wasn't ready to be blended yet. Do you think Zakarian really would have preferred to serve the judges undercooked soup? He clearly trusted her judgment on it and it turned out perfectly in the end.

        • WestCoastFan says:

          True. True. It was the potatoes. She wanted them as done as possible before blending. However, I have to think that his regular sous chef wouldn't dare talk back to him the way Alex had.

          • jeri says:

            I would think that when you know him, he is a very jovial person. If his relationship with his sous chefs in his restaurants is as good as it is with Chef Alex, he would be a joy to work for. Chefs and sous chefs have, generally, a very good relationship. If they don't, they aren't your sous chef for long!

      • jeri says:

        That's the way they are together. He said so himself. He enjoys her bantering.

        • FanFare57 says:

          I think a comment was made about them as being like "a married couple" (obviously not in the literal sense.). They both said that they're friends. Under pressure, friends can snap at each other , without meaning offense. I was surprised to see that GZ seemed more relaxed than Alex in his first battle.

          • AmandaKat says:

            I was not at all surprised that he used Alex! They seem to be close friends! In fact, I actually thought they kind of flirted all the time! Especially when they are together on ICA! Before I posted rumors or checked my information, like EF fans seem to be doing, I looked online and yes it says they are just close FRIENDS! They do flirt in a friendly way still, but they make a dynamite team! I would like to add that GZ is a fantastic, sophisticated, creative, and a very talented chef! He very much deserved to win! I'm not hating on EF, although her fans seem to be grabbing at straws, but none of the viewers ate the food.. So how can you argue with the judges picking GZ? To all the people saying that EF should have won for being a woman and that women are treated unfairly, it is ironic because your basically saying that if GZ performed better he should be discriminated against just so the woman isn't discriminated against? GZ has my fan vote and loyalty that he won me over with himself! It was a great season with mind blowing talent from them all!

      • Marty says:

        Actually, I had read somewhere that, in the past six years at Butter, the employee turnover rate in both the front of the house and the back of the house has been minimal. In an industry with a high turnover rate, I would believe that speaks well of Alex.

  4. wendy says:

    Congratulations Geoffrey! It was beautiful to watch you cook. I would love to get your recipe for the creamed and crispy

  5. wendy says:

    Congratulations Geoffrey! It was beautiful to watch you cook. I would love to get your recipe for the creamed and crispy brussel sprouts.

    Thanks,

    Wendy

  6. FanFare57 says:

    Has anyone else noticed that Geoffrey's IC portrait looks more like a mug shot? It's not very flattering. Just sayin'.

  7. WestCoastFan says:

    "Tell me what you eat,
    and I'll tell you what you are."

    Brillat-Savarin

    *The first words you see from the orginal Iron Chef Japan.

  8. PennySue says:

    Zakarian is a crook and a criminal and I think it is despicable that the FN chooses to hire someone who has such complete disregard for the service industry. He is an arrogant, selfish, greedy SOB, and plays by his own rules. And the biggest disgrace is that the judges let him.. only because they knew from the start who they wanted on board. I wonder how much of a kickback Jeff is giving them.. The only thing worse than a rigged contest is one that is won by a criminal. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/dining/27zakari

    • jeri says:

      That is an old article and doesnt present ALL the facts. Leave it in the courts, where it belongs!

    • FanFare57 says:

      I'm still not convinced that GZ's financial issues are any of our business. It's not as if he works for us.
      The continuous remarks from folks about his alleged malfeasance sound more like sour grapes to me.

    • WestCoastFan says:

      We've seen pretty much the same link regarding the same story. When you guys see something more up to date THEN maybe post it. The same thing over and over is getting a bit much.

      • Vern2012 says:

        I read no where in this article that he had been convicted! I sound like a dispute between disgruntled parties. All it take for a class action is a few people to group together and file a suit. Four or five unhappy employees is all it takes to start something like this. Nice try, but this doesn't mean anything except that he is have financial difficulties. I bet you could find twice as many people who would tell us that GZ is a good, respected, and honest employer.

    • Fr. D says:

      A big AMEN to that! If and when he appears on an episode of IC my television will search elsewhere. He was told several times that what the judges wanted and he chose to ignore them. What a jerk! Go back to your hole at the "Lambs Club?" and stay there.

  9. Ricco55 says:

    I watched part of GZ's first Iron Chef competition and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. The interplay between him and Alex was actually fun to watch, and I was not rooting for either of them during NIC. His food looked gorgeous, he seems to take cooking seriously, and shows a great deal of creativity. I wanted to hate him and instead I'm now a fan. I did feel really sorry for Alex cleaning and breaking down what seemed like an endless supply of fish.

  10. in the biz says:

    Newsflash, people. If you think it was staged, you're right. Most television is staged. GZ has charm and by the way can cook apparently too. For those who think that the Food Network is anything other than business or money, as in respect for the food industry, you're obviously naive or perhaps delusional or stupid. Chef Faulkner was awesome. Part of these "competitions" are also to launch the careers of up and coming chefs. Everyone else in that competition already has a show on FN or figures prominently on existing shows. She is the only one who doesn't. She's a smart woman and a capable chef. Keep watching for her. This show is just the beginning of her story.

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