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.

More behind-the-scenes extras from the Super Chefs finale:

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Comments (427)

  1. cynthia says:

    hey food network…how about a tie? they were both perfect. tie game. easy.

    • jeri says:

      Interesting thought, but where would they put them both? In a contest you can really have only one winner, and on that particular day the best chef won.

    • WestCoastFan says:

      You can only have a draw when the points are tied. I believe on the original ICJ they only had draws when they added the 4th judge. They would split the judges (2-2) and then go by points. If the points were equal then they had a tie. If they split the judges and one chef had more points they were declared the winner. When ICJ had only 3 judges, as far as I can remember, there was never a draw/tie.

      • jeri says:

        Where do you come up with all this wonderful information? You are a warehouse ok knowledge!

        • WestCoastFan says:

          Obviously, too much tv and watching of ICJ episodes! :-D

          A local tv station used to show IC but with only captioning. Everything was in japanese so one had to read pretty fast to catch everything.

          Extra: When there was a tie in the ICJ they had a 30 minute cook-off and they had to go thru the whole judging again. As far as I can remember their might have been 2 ties that ended with the OT being tied. I know for sure there has been at least one 60min tie & 30min OT tie. They are two of my favorite battles to watch.

          • jeri says:

            That's interesting. I still think you have a photographic memory that allows you to keep all these facts! Even if I were computer savvy, which I'm not, no way could I find the facts you find in the tiime you find them!!! I'm truly impressed!

          • WestCoastFan says:

            Not photographic but sometimes filled with more odd info that is probably good for me. :-P

            It's been awhile since I last saw some of the eps but with the mention of the original ICJ on the blog I've been visiting some of my old viewing sites (which thankfully are still up) and have enjoyed watching a few battles again and of course remembering bits and pieces from the IC book. I can tell you when I found out that my local library had it I kept that out for a few check-outs! :-)

  2. Santas Reindeer says:

    Chef Z. You are very talented…..maybe not Mr Congeniality but certainly talented. Maybe the judges really did know what they were doing. I may just start to like you!!

    • jeri says:

      The judges knew what they were doing. ICCZ is a jovial man. He interacts well with his staff. He especially eta along well with Chef Alex, his Sous Chef on his first battle o ICA. He trusts er judgement and her skills. Will she stay? We will just have to wait and see!

    • Minnie says:

      Chef Z is like Miss America compared to that snarkey Chiarello. What a putz!

  3. Ann says:

    CONGRATULATIONS Chef Zakarian!!!! You cooked your like a champion and you came out on top!!!! I was supporting you all the way. I tthink you are a gracious chef and good human being. You winning made watching the show worth it all. I will be watching Iron Chef to see you create somemore EXCELLENT DISHES.

  4. BostonRocks says:

    Congrats to Chef Zakarian! You earned the title of IC! So happy for you and can't wait to watch you perform in Kitchen Stadium and continue to watch you judge on Chopped! You are a true talent and enjoy all of your work!

    • jeri says:

      IC Zakarian has already had his first battle, and he won! I agree he is a true talent. And he even cries once in a while on Chopped!

      • BostonRocks says:

        I agree completely Jeri! Can't believe how people are reacting to his win on NIC! I agree he is arrogant and cocky but to me that is part of his appeal but I think that Judge Alex Guarnaschelli is far more cockier and arrogant than he but I like her as well. When you have chefs of this caliber judging a cooking competition, listen to what they have to say, no matter how they say it and take it as constructive criticism. When I saw Chef Z cry on chopped it really didn't surprise me…he is human after all! The whole panel cried!

        • jeri says:

          Chef GZ and Chef AG get along so well together. They play off each other. They both appear cocky, but together, they are are one. Those that don't believe should watch ICGZ first battle, with Chef AG as his sous chef. They trust each other completely. A great chef is so dependent on his (her). It may seem like bickering, but in reality it is trust. They made a wonderful team. I hope she will be his permanent sous chef. Wonderful team! Good lick to both of them.

  5. Ang says:

    Bottom line- it's television people! For those of you that are upset, no one forced or forces you to watch now. It is what it is- GZ won and that's that. Get over it an stop complaining- don't watch if you don't like it.

  6. cde says:

    Love the hello kitty bandaids!!

  7. Janet says:

    Dear Food Network,
    No matter what you think about GZ, he is pompous, arrogant and hasn't got a drop of charisma. As I have said many times, the FN has become very successful by choosing charismatic 'food personalities' to host their shows and since most people like to and have to eat. Also, they usually have an interest/obsession in the subject, the network has grown by leaps and bounds. But this last NIC, your people have really screwed up-royally! I'm not going to suggest that the outcome was pre-ordained, I and many others have felt that way from the first episode. I believe Robert and Anne and Alex were cut unfairly. I think it was supposed to end exactly as it did. Well, your stuck with GZ and I really don't think it is possible to infuse him with charisma or even make him palatable to viewers on any basis. The thing is this: You have used judges who have such corrupted palates that they are totally unaware; and that most of the 'crud' they find inventive and worthy of flowery praise, and appear to enjoy (?) make most "normal" people want to retch! You really need to put a woman up as iron chef and it shouldn't be LF, I know she is a gifted pastry chef (I bought her books) but I would wager you would be hard-pressed to find many regular everyday people who would even try, let alone rave about a 'tuna jerky souffle' Regroup and rethink what real missteps you have made with this show. Read the blogs, see the real upset you caused your audiences; and the continuing anger every time he is "thrown in our faces" Wake up and smell the coffee!

  8. fanofNIC says:

    This was definitely THE BEST season of Next Iron Chef yet. I loved watching every single episode and have recorded some to watch again. Great drama and suspense. Funny too, that new judge Judy made me laugh out loud several times (which I don't do that often). Chefs were interesting characters especially rivalries. Cannot wait to see next season. Love zakarian as the new iron chef. was rooting for robert irvine at first, but he didn't last long. simon majumdar is cranky, but it adds balance to the panel.

    • Vern2012 says:

      I also like Robert Irvine, I just wish he would learn not to say "them" when referring to multiple items. For instance, "We have got to get them desserts finished." or "Move them chairs over there." I know this is not a bit thing but it lets you know he was not paying attention in English class.

  9. Dan says:

    I don't know where to post this, but I am upset about the housewife who judged Zakarian and Casanova this week. She has no ability to assess their cuisine.

    And then there is the experience factor: how is she qualified to judge Iron Chefs when she's never had sushi?

    I didn't like her telling us that she was passing along inside jokes to Housewife fans, so I was not feeling the love, but to me, her comments were dull.

    I'm glad it wasn't a close contest… It was a sad day for this program and for the Food Network!

    • marilynn says:

      I am with you 100%! When I saw who the judges were I turned off the show because I could not believe they would invite someone with absolutely no qualifications to judge to be on the show just because they were a tv personality. Quite frankly I think it was an insult to both Zakarian and Casanova to put someone like this in judgement of them.

    • Lisa says:

      I agree! Please do not invite Jill Zarin back to be a judge. Personally, I don't want to see judges who say they don't like certain foods or who admit they have never tried something. It detracts from their opinions as judges. In her case, it doesn't sound like she is very adventurous or is much of a foodie.

      • FanFare56 says:

        I agree with you, Lisa. If someone has never tried a certain food, then he/she can't judge it to be correctly prepared. Their opinion is meaningless.

    • Roger says:

      I agree with everyone. ICA is one of our favorite shows, but judges who have no food knowledge and just say "it was good," or "I don't like xxx" add nothing to an otherwise great show.

      congratulations to Iron Chef Zakarian.

    • BostonRocks says:

      I agree Dan…having a Housewife as a judge was rather pathetic…I was completely boggled by that. She has no idea about judging food and pretty much admitted that on live television! And then to attempt to pass off a ridiculous statement as an inside joke to housewife fans was sad in itself! I hope this is the last time we see this caliber of a judge !

    • LyndaS says:

      I found it totally meritless to have Jill Z as a judge for a cooking contest. The fact that she admitted to little food knowledge and experience made me wonder if she greased the palms of FN producers to get a spot. Otherwise, her participation made no sense. Any viewer out here in the blogosphere has better credentials to judge. At least, we pay attention to what's going on and what various foods taste like…

  10. Deb says:

    I do not like the choice for the next Iron Chef. Reading more information about him confirms my opinion of his pompous arrogance and his displays of entitlement and superiority. I would watch Iron Chef with the family as the chefs displayed an authenticity to aspire towards. After reading about GZ and his unscrupulous financial behavior regarding his employees and partners, I find it hard to believe he is a team player or a person of integrity. It lessens my respect for the title of Iron Chef and for the chefs who supported his admission into their "inner" circle. AND NO…I won't be watching him on Iron Chef…it's enough to have to endure his poor behavior on Chopped…at least there you are watching the chefs and enjoying the likes of Aaron Sanchez.

    • jeri says:

      His financial problems have no place on this blog. They are none of our business. What is in the courts needs to stay in the courts. He is honest in his judging. He gets along with his fellow judges, if he were so out of bounds he wouldn't be popular! The best chef won on that particular dat, get over it.

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