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Geoffrey Zakarian is ending the year with a bang. The chef at the National and the Lambs Club can now also call himself an Iron Chef, having beaten nine other culinary pros competing on The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs. We called him up to talk about what it’s like being a television star and to learn how the Food Network has changed America’s outlook on eating.
So how does cooking in the kitchen compare to cooking on television?
There’s no comparison. You’re alone, whereas I have a lot of help when I’m cooking in my kitchens. On the show, no one does your prep work.
Did you enjoy being on the show?
It was really amazing. I had a great time bonding with the other chefs who I knew tangentially. When you spend three months together, you get to know people and we made fast friends.
What was the hardest challenge of Next Iron Chef?
Definitely Montauk, just because of the elements of the sun and the boats and sand and wind and having to chop in that setting. And cooking for 25 is challenging.
How does The Next Iron Chef compare to Chopped, which you’ve also been on?
Even if the format seems similar, it isn’t. Chopped is straightforward. You have ingredients and have to make an appetizer and then a main and a dessert, and they tell you what to make. It’s much more confined, and you don’t have that element of surprise, and don’t have to run around and jog everywhere.
How do you think food television has affected America’s perception of chefs and home cooking?
Food television is remarkable, and it brings the public up to speed on food. You can go anywhere now and people know what sweetbreads and skate are. It’s educated our customers and shows our career and what we do every day. Look at the ratings of Food Network. People probably watch Food Network more than they cook.
Do you watch Food Network yourself?
I do. I like Restaurant: Impossible and I like Alex [Guarnaschelli’s] show, Alex’s Day Off.
How would you describe your culinary point of view?
I would say I’m a modernist. I’m always trying to take old dishes and put them in a modern setting.
Who has been your culinary inspiration?
As for naming one person, it would be hard. If I could name three, Alain Sailhac, Daniel Boulud, and I’d say Alain Passard from l’Arpège in Paris.
So can we expect to see any of your dishes from Next Iron Chef show up on your restaurants’ menus?
We’re trying some right now. We’re doing them as specials and they are selling well. We are doing a cocktail called the Mad Men Cosmo at the Lambs Club, and at the National, we’re doing a salmon tartare with lemon aioli, a one-eyed susie with shrimp, and a filet Provençal with olives, capers, and red wine reduction.
Check back in tomorrow, when Geoffrey reveals his plans for the holidays.
For more dining news, head to Fork in the Road, or follow us @ForkintheRoadVV, or me @ldshockey.