A dapper chef who credits his “food-centric family” as his first culinary influence, Geoffrey Zakarian is a powerhouse in the food world.
The owner of eight restaurants across the country and a mainstay on the Food Network, he first made his way to South Florida when he operated Blue Door at the Delano Hotel in Miami Beach in the ’90s. Every year, he returns to South Beach to host events during South Beach Wine & Food Festival with the rest of his Food Network cohorts, the channel where he’s known as one of the best-dressed judges and contestants on shows like “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America.”
Last year, Zakarian made a permanent impression on South Florida when he became a part of the new-and-improved Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, where he has two dining concepts, Point Royal and Counter Point. While he was in town checking on his two ventures, Boca magazine had a chance to sit down with the culinary guru.
Point Royal and Counter Point have been open for a year now—how’s it going?
We’re very excited to be here, the restaurant is doing terrific, the coffee bar is always busy, so we’re really happy about that. [The Diplomat has] a nice feel, it’s a nice place to hang around and just sit here. You feel like this place is your living room, and it’s a very big hotel, but it doesn’t feel big. There’s enough small little areas to just sit and chill out in. and then you’ve got, of course, this amazing in and out bar here. What can be better than that?
What are some favorites on your menu?
I had the grilled lobster last night that was just so good. Also, if you haven’t had it, you got to go in there and have the baked macaroni-and-cheese crawfish. That is so different than what anyone does and it’s just delicious and it really shows a lot of work and really engaging the seafood, but not going overboard.
How do you infuse South Florida style into a dish?
South Florida is a melting pot. I would say that what we try to do here, we focus. There’s a tendency to want to open an umbrella backwards and grab everything and try to be everything to everybody. You can’t. It becomes a mess, you can’t structure a kitchen the correct way. It’s confusing for the cooks, it’s confusing for the customers—it’s like, what is this? What kind of restaurant is this? “Well it’s a little bit of this, a little of that,”—when I hear that, I generally tend not to select that kind of restaurant. If I want sushi I’m not going to a restaurant that’s got ribs. If I want ramen noodles, I’m going to a ramen noodle place.
What are your early memories of food?
We talk about farm-to-table now and organic; I was eating that when I was 4. It was eating. Before anything else was around in the ‘60s and ‘70s, processed food was coming up, but these mothers and these chefs and cooks, they were family cooks and they just cooked from the heart. They went out and got stuff from the garden, and they bought the cheapest stuff and they made it into something delicious and they made it with very few ingredients. It was like you really tasted the sun on the spinach. You tasted the flavor of everything because it wasn’t hidden. It wasn’t supposed to be—it was supposed to be what it was.
You let food be itself.
At 4 years old I was a snob. I was! I knew what fresh spinach was, knew what yogurt—homemade yogurt—I knew how to make it, I knew what pie was, real pie made from things you just picked, dough that you made fresh, it takes work. Stews and things like that were made from scratch everyday and then they started all over again.
Now that you have a family of your own, what do you cook for them?
I cook breakfast every morning … it’s the most important meal of the day and this comes from my childhood. Breakfast was like a feast. I ask my kids what they want the next day, and I generally cook it. Omelettes, we have fruit every morning, we have pomegranates, we have Greek yogurt, that’s a staple. Obviously there’s avocado toast, fruit, yogurt, that’s just always. Then there’s scrambled eggs, fried eggs, bacon, quiches, whole-wheat waffles, whatever they want, we just add to it. That’s every day, we eat like Sunday Brunch every morning.
What about some some of your summer staples?
[In Florida] you have so much local fish that’s great—snapper, bass, yellowtail, anything that you can get out of here that’s great. Simply grilled with fennel and lemon, caper, vinaigrette, simple, fresh dill, rosé. I mean, something on the grill or a real complex salad like salmon niçoise.
Any grilling tips you can dispense?
Remember that the grill is only as effective as the protein that you put on out. So you’ve got to buy the right quality. Spend money to get good stuff, eat less of it, and you’ll be much better off. You don’t get cheap food. You don’t get a cheap lawyer, and you don’t have a cheap bed, right?