One day ahead of the 2016 presidential election, celebrity chef and restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian is returning to the capitol. It’s round two of restaurant-location hunting for Zakarian, who made headlines when he pulled his third location of the National from Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
The Food Network fixture’s grand brasserie would have operated alongside a flagship restaurant from Spanish-American chef José Andrés. However, months after signing a lease for the hotel in 2015, both men withdrew their projects. They have since been slapped with $10 million lawsuits alleging breach of contract. Both chefs have countersued. Since then, Andrés has been outspoken in his support of Hillary Clinton and has denounced Trump on Twitter, but Zakarian has remained mostly quiet. (Save for a recent remark that the Trump children should sue their father.)
The Village Voice caught up with Zakarian over the weekend at Savor Borgata, an annual culinary event at the Atlantic City hotel and casino where he serves as the culinary lifestyle consultant.
“I’m going to D.C. to look at two spaces, because my buddy Donald, he fucked up,” Zakarian tells the Voice. “He opened his fucking mouth.”
Zakarian is referring to June 16, 2015, when Trump descended an escalator at Trump Tower and declared his candidacy for the presidency while spewing hateful comments about Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Trump’s failure to apologize stuck with Zakarian, and after Andrés publicly withdrew from the Old Post Office Pavilion project, Zakarian followed with a brief written statement to the New York Times.
Then it was radio silence, save for comments made in recently released depositions, in which Zakarian placed the blame on Trump’s rhetoric. Zakarian tells the Voice that he still values the Trump children as friends. “It’s a shame,” he says, “but they’ve got a dad to support.”
While Zakarian cannot directly comment on litigation, he says he remains close to Donald Trump Jr., with whom he developed a social relationship during the project’s conception. “I am friends with him; it’s just not possible for us to socialize now,” he says. “It’s very strange. We’re separated like a couple in therapy. I send him articles once in a while; he sends me stuff.”
Even though depositions reveal Ivanka Trump was suspicious of Zakarian’s business practices and critical of the restaurant plans, the chef only blames one person for what’s transpired. “It’s a shame because of the father,” he said. “It’s shocking that this guy does this to these kids — the good thing about him is that he has lovely children.”
Why has it taken so long for Zakarian to comment? That may have something to do with the fact not many people have asked him.
“Strangely, people don’t talk about it,” he says. “They talk about how silly it is, or the election, or the candidates…but I don’t talk about politics or religion. Those are two things I never espouse about because the country’s gotten to the point where you can’t have a conversation with anybody without being labeled a fascist or a lunatic.”
In the past, Zakarian didn’t shy away from political statements. Indeed, he used the same platform preferred by Donald Trump: Twitter. In March 2014, he tweeted his disappointment that Barack Obama would disrespect the Oval Office by wearing casual attire there. When Pete Souza, the Chief Official White House Photographer, corrected Zakarian and informed him Ronald Reagan did the same, Zakarian deleted the tweet.
Now Zakarian prefers to share his political preferences in a quieter fashion. FEC filings show that following the Trump lawsuits, in December 2015 and February 2016, Zakarian made a combined $750 in contributions to Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign.