Geoffrey Zakarian

F&W Star Chef

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Restaurants: Chef and partner at The Lambs Club and The National Bar & Dining Rooms (New York); The Water Club (Atlantic City)

Education: Culinary Institute of America

What is the dish you’re most famous for?
Escargot risotto.

What’s the first dish you cooked for yourself?
A grilled steak when I was eight. Really, I was eight! On a charcoal grill, the real deal. It is a good dish for beginners.

Who is your food mentor?
I’ve had so many. Alain Sailhac at Le Cirque, Daniel Boulud, Alain Passard. But I always remember working for Jacques Maximin in France. The way it works there is you have the same staff, but you close after lunch and have a few hours off before you open for dinner. He would organize soccer games behind the restaurant and play along with everyone else. He was so competitive, but he was so committed to bringing the staff together and having a good time. I’ve always remembered that.

Do you have any hidden talents?
I have many! But really, I play classical piano.

What’s your current food obsession?
Cooking with cast-iron pans. It never goes out of style. You don’t really use it in a restaurant kitchen, but for home, it’s just so reliable and so good. It’s also a good source of iron—when you cook in cast iron, small amounts get imparted into your food. So it’s great if you have low iron, or especially for pregnant women.

Do you have any shift rituals or superstitions?
I’m not superstitious, but I shake the hand of everyone who works for me every day—from the line cooks to the hostesses.

What’s going to be the big thing in five years?
French cuisine. Not necessarily the white tablecloth, fine-dining aspect of it, but I think people want a connection to what they’re eating. As a reaction to foams and molecular cuisine, people are going to move back toward the classic French-style dishes.