Chopped Judge Geoffrey Zakarian on SoBeWFF's Expansion to Broward: "Culinary Scene Knows No Boundaries"

Meet Chopped judge and celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian during the SoBe Fort Lauderdale Taste series Bloody Mary Brunch event taking place at The Ritz-Carlton on Sunday, February 28.
Meet Chopped judge and celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian during the SoBe Fort Lauderdale Taste series Bloody Mary Brunch event taking place at The Ritz-Carlton on Sunday, February 28.
Photo courtesy of Food Network

With a career spanning over 30 years, Geoffrey Zakarian has made his mark in the culinary world as a celebrity chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author. But later this month, you'll know him as that Chopped guy drinking bloody mary's at the Ritz-Carlton in Fort Lauderdale during his debut hosting gig for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival Taste Fort Lauderdale series.

Owner of the Lambs Club and the National in the heart of midtown Manhattan, as well as the National Greenwich in Connecticut, when Zakarian isn't busy cooking in one of his world-class kitchens, he's overseeing the food and beverage program at the historic Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. In 2014, he re-launched the Palm Court and today continues to breathe new life into the hotel's in-room dining service, the Rose Club, and the Champagne Bar.

Outside of the kitchen Zakarian is also an accomplished author; in 2006 he released his debut cookbook, Geoffrey Zakarian's Town/Country: 150 Recipes for Life Around the Table, followed by My Perfect Pantry, which hit shelves in October 2014.

But — more than any other role — Zakarian is perhaps best known for his on-air persona as an Iron Chef, a longtime favorite judge on Food Network's Chopped, and co-host for the network's daytime series, The Kitchen.

Over the years Zakarian has attended several SoBe festivals (so many he's lost count, apparently) and this year will be hosting three events, including a new Taste Fort Lauderdale Series one with the debut of the Chopped Bloody Mary brunch taking place on Sunday, February 28.

The brunch is a new addition to not only the Taste series, say event coordinators, but also for the SoBe festival lineup as a whole, an event fashioned after a similar 2015 New York City Wine & Food Festival brunch where gin and vodka producers came together on Pier 60 in Manhattan to see who could produce the best bloody mary according to the Food Network's Chopped cast.

"I will be drinking and judging about a dozen bloody marys with my fellow Chopped judges," says Zakarian. "There are certainly worse jobs out there."

We recently caught up with the celebrity chef to find out what the South Florida food scene means to him. Here's what he had to say:

New Times: Do you have any past memories of previous festivals you can share?
Geoffrey Zakarian: Each festival is so dynamic and uniquely individual that it's hard to nail down a favorite. I have fond memories of performing demos because of how much I like to teach. The crowd gets a chance to be interactive, and there are always so many great questions and narratives from other's cooking adventures.

What are your thoughts about the event expanding into Broward County this year?
I think it's wonderful. The culinary scene knows no boundaries, so why should this festival be any different? I'm excited to experience what Broward County has to offer. When accomplished chef and restaurateur Stephen Starr is already part of the scene, that's evidence enough that there's a movement happening north of Miami.

What do you think about the evolution of the food scene in South Florida overall?
I think the food scene across the country has really evolved, embracing regions that weren't always known for their culinary chops. All across Florida there is such a wealth of fresh ingredients and a melting pot of cultures. Why not explore that? I hope that great chefs continue to realize that there are incredible customers and opportunities everywhere.

The Chopped Bloody Mary Brunch will take place on Sunday, February 28, from noon to 2 p.m. at The Ritz-Carlton located at 1 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale. Visit sobefest.com.

Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.


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