Can any ordinary cook become a celebrity chef without adapting a strong signature style today?
Food Network star and restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian is among a growing crop of chefs that are almost as well known for their signature styles as well as their delicious food. "The Kitchen" host recently ditched his signature chunky glasses and he dished with us about the world of celebrity chefs and the growing important of having a unique look in today's digital dining space.
FoxNews.com: How do you feel about the notion of celebrity chefs crafting signature looks?
Geoffrey Zakarian: I think as a chef, unlike many other professions, we tend to be recognized as artists. We all have a certain style and we all really live that style in the kitchen and out of the kitchen. If you look at different chefs they bring different things to their style. They very much cook the way they dress.
Mario Batali and his orange crocs, his look is playful, it’s big, it’s colorful. His food has always been very simple, three to five fresh ingredients, whipped together. A lot of one pan cooking and that’s who Mario Batali is. If you look at Guy Fieri-- it’s flavor town! It’s shazam! It’s all over the place. Big huge flavors and it’s bold and spicy. If you look at Guy then you know exactly what you are getting when you go into his restaurant. He’s not plating two scallops and a little drizzle of sauce.
FoxNews.com: You recently got rid of your glasses. Why change up your look?
Geoffrey Zakarian: My sight was changing and wearing my glasses was becoming an issue. It’s tough with your glasses on and off and on and off. I would run into the kitchen, then go into the dining room and run back into the kitchen and then go into the walk-in freezer. Going into all these different temperature gradients where the dining room is 72-degrees, the kitchen is 125-degrees and the walk-in is 40 degrees it was becoming an issue. If you don’t have the right lenses, then you are going to be walking around in a fog-- which was happening to me.
Which is why I changed from my glasses to contacts. I’m now partnered with Alcon Dailies Total 1 and their new technology has made all the difference. When you are a chef, vision is number one. After all, we eat with our eyes and I don’t like any distractions while cooking.
FoxNews.com: As a judge on show, do you ever care what contestants look like?
Geoffrey Zakarian: The problem with the contestants is that they all wear the same outfits. I really can’t get a sort of read on them. We try, but very often we are wrong.
The biggest things we use to determine the contestants' performances in the kitchen is what I see in their technique, their precision, how they hold the knife, how they grab a plate, how they run, how they grab something out of fridge. Observation is key. As far as being on a show where they are actually cooking, there is nothing but details for me. All the nickels add up. It really is small little touches here or there that collectively really allow you to present a beautiful plate of food. Even more important than my taste is my sight.
FoxNews.com: How has the notion of what it means to be chef and a celebrity chef changed in the past few years?
Geoffrey Zakarian: Thank God people are still dining out. Food is the ultimate expression of love-- sitting around a table with your family and friends, with food and beverage...We are lucky as chefs when we are seen as artists. It’s very powerful to give pleasure to people. If we do it in a stylish way, if we do it in a consistent way and we do it in a way that is provocative and relevant and forward looking, then we become the focus of attention, thankfully. The cooking shows really helped this. Think of all the food knowledge we all have now in the last twenty five years because of cooking shows.
FoxNews.com: It's almost Thanksgiving. What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for the all home cooks and hosts out there?
Geoffrey Zakarian: Thanksgiving is the one meal about thanking everyone. If you are going to invite people, then ask them to bring their best dish. The host should do the turkey and dressing, then everybody else can participate in bringing something. Make it a potluck Thanksgiving. Then everyone can sit around talking about their dish, how they made it, who gave them the recipe. Instead of rushing to see the football game, you have wonderful moment[s] of people talking about their dishes. Then everyone gets a shot at feeling prideful over there dish... it’s also not so much stress on the host.
FoxNews.com: Any childhood memories that still influence your Thanksgiving today?
Geoffrey Zakarian: I learned how to cook from my mother and my four aunts. They lived into their nineties and they were all great cooks and I learned how to make everything from them. Thanksgiving was ridiculous, we could feed an army. My mother would do a turkey and a ham. My aunts would never come empty handed. I have a lot of great memories of beautifully baked ham.
FoxNews.com: Do you have one “out-of-the-box” tip for Thanksgiving?
Geoffrey Zakarian: I think it’s always really special to have fine wine that comes in Magnums. When you pour wine out of Magnums instead of regular bottles it’s so much more celebratory or special. Even if it's the same cost as two separate bottles. Every wine should be available in a Magnum. Especially when pouring champagne. It’s just a nice thing to do. It’s a simple thing that adds a nice a touch, but looks very fancy and grand.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Geoffrey Zakarian is a paid spokesman for Alcon Dailies contact lenses.