Geoffrey Zakarian Shares His Best Tips At The South Beach Wine & Food Festival - Exclusive Interview

Geoffrey Zakarian does not let a little thing like work stop him from spending time with his family. In March, the famous chef's daughters are hosting the City Harvest Winter Family Carnival. But before that, Zakarian is heading to sunny Florida for the 2023 South Beach Wine & Food Festival, where he is co-hosting the Bal Harbour Shops ACCESS: Fashion Show & Luncheon alongside his wife, Margaret Anne Williams.

With this gathering of some of the biggest names in food, it takes a lot to stand out, and Zakarian does just that. From his critically acclaimed book "Geoffrey Zakarian's Town/Country: 150 Recipes for Life Around the Table" to his impressive restaurant and television career, it is clear Zakarian knows how to pull out all the stops. So while we waited to see what delectables would be sampled at this year's festival, we got the chance to interview Zakarian. In this exclusive interview with Tasting Table, the chef shares his tips and tricks to perfect his classic dishes. Our mouths are already watering.

Attending the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

You have worked with your wife for a while and will co-host Bal Harbour Shops ACCESS: Fashion Show & Luncheon. What is your favorite part about doing events like this together?

Margaret and I enjoy events like the luncheon at Bal Harbour because it gives us a chance to get together with people who share our love of fashion and food. Plus, we always enjoy anything that we get to do together.

You are slated to attend the tribute dinner honoring your friend Alex Guarnaschelli. What's the best lesson (food, life, or both) she's taught you?

I've been working with Alex for at least 15 years. She is one of the best natural cooks alive. And she has a phenomenal palate. One thing about Alex is that she never stops competing — so she inspires me to do the same.

What has been your favorite recipe to teach on "The Kitchen"?

After so many recipes, it's hard to choose, but my Spaghetti Limone and Aglio e Olio stand[s] out the most in my mind.

Do not be afraid of salt

One of the most interesting ways you use wine is by adding a splash of rosé champagne to Long Island iced tea. What was the inspiration behind that addition, and how does it elevate the polarizing cocktail?

To be honest, I had a little extra rosé left over. But a Long Island iced tea is actually quite good when made correctly. The wine adds a nice, fruity acidity and brings the sweetness down just enough.

What is something everyone gets wrong when cooking steak?

Where people go wrong starts when they're shopping. Buy a dried, prime steak that is about 1½ inches thick. Also, people never add enough salt. All four sides of the steak need a generous dose of salt.

Your Iron Chef Grilled Cheese is famous. What is your trick to getting the perfectly crisp outside and gooey inside?

Mayo on the outside of the bread will undoubtedly give you a perfectly crisp grilled cheese. You should also season the outside of the bread with salt. Once the bread is crisp and golden, I put the skillet in a 350-degree oven to melt the cheese completely.

The perfect crispy potato

On your Instagram page, you said, "Every great dish needs an even better side dish." What is your go-to easy and delicious side dish?

When I can, I'll make roasted Yukon gold potatoes or mashed potatoes — which my kids love. Those two never fail. I also like to make a bitter green or a salad with a bright lemon-garlic dressing.

What is the best technique to ensure crispy roasted potatoes?

Start with 1½-inch diced potatoes in a pot of heavily salted cold water. Bring [it] to a boil and cook [them] until a knife can be inserted into the potato with zero resistance. Drain [them], and transfer [them] onto a sheet pan. Allow them to cool and dry out a bit. Then add olive oil, crushed garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. Throw them into a 425-degree oven, and give them a shake after 10 to 15 minutes. Continue to cook [them] until [they're] golden brown. You can even smash them with the bottom of a drinking glass to get those crispy edges.

Ingredients from the land and sea

What are some of your favorite underrated cheeses, meats, and accouterments to add to charcuterie boards?

Real bologna, cubed — which is called mortadella. And as much as I like cheese, I almost like pickles more. You really need that sour bite as a bit of relief from all the fatty meat and cheese.

What are the secrets to a perfect tuna burger?

A tuna burger needs ground ginger, ground lemongrass, scallions, and spicy mayo. The inside should be medium-rare, and the outside should be crisp.

Many of your recipes focus on fresh ingredients. With tinned fish making a comeback, are there any recipes you prefer canned over fresh?

Niçoise salad should always be made exclusively with canned Portuguese or Spanish tuna packed in olive oil — never fresh tuna. The use of fresh was an American adaptation, but the traditional way has always been with canned.

Feeding the community

You are known to make a killer French omelet. What is the secret to getting the light and fluffy yet perfectly rolled classic French omelet?

Heat a pan over medium-high heat and whisk three eggs in a bowl. No seasoning yet. Melt a couple knobs of whole butter in the pan. Once the eggs hit the pan, move them constantly with a spatula, season [them] with salt, then add a few pieces of very cold, diced butter. The butter keeps the protein from getting tough. Remove the omelet from the pan by gently folding it onto itself on a plate.

City Harvest's Winter Family Carnival is back in person for the first time since 2020. As chairman of City Harvest's Food Council, what is the most rewarding part about working with City Harvest?

I am very much looking forward to the City Harvest Winter Family Carnival on Sunday, March 12 in Manhattan. My daughters, Anna and Madeline, are hosting the event. City Harvest [is marking] 40 years [of] serving New York City, and post-COVID, we are back in person for this incredible event [for] the first time since 2020. It is so important to make sure that our fellow neighbors who are food insecure are being taken care of, and that is what City Harvest does.

When you are tight on time and cooking a meal for your family, what is your number-one time-saving kitchen tip?

Order takeout!

The South Beach Wine & Food Festival is taking place from February 23 to 26, 2023.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.