How to conquer a food festival

Star chef Geoffrey Zakarian tells EDGAR how he’s able to try six restaurants in one day.

March 3, 2017

Geoffrey Zakarian’s dress sense is as sharp as his kitchen knives. The star chef and dapper gent is in Dubai this weekend to take part in Dubai Food Festival. Zakarian, 58, began his career in New York City’s legendary French restaurant Le Cirque in 1981. Since then he’s led teams at numerous award-winning restaurants across America, appeared on countless TV shows as both a judge and chef, and written best-selling books.

What do you like about food festivals?
I get a chance to see new restaurants that I don’t know about. I love discovering stuff.

What’s your plan of attack when you arrive in a new city for a festival?
Usually, we’re at a food festival for three days max, so I do three lunches and three dinners on the same day.

I’m serious. I start at 11.30am in a restaurant. I sit at the bar and order one thing. The next place I have a main course at 12.30. The third restaurant I have an appetiser, and maybe a dessert. Same thing at dinner – we start at 5.30pm. I love eating early – the chefs, wait staff, and bartenders are happy and they aren’t exhausted yet.  

What’s the advantage of eating like that?
You don’t over eat, and you get the feeling of a restaurant. You don’t need to eat a full meal to get a sense of a place. It’s the first five seconds that get you: music, lighting, the greeting, the vibe – it’s my five second rule. After five seconds you’ll know if a place is really something.

What do fans ask you at food festivals?
It’s always the same questions: Why aren’t you fat? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten? What would I eat if I was on my deathbed, which is pretty morbid! Of course I answer them, I love meeting fans. They ask great questions about food and restaurants during the Q&A sessions and that’s when it’s most fun.

Do you like to meet chefs?
Most of the time I know everybody, but here in Dubai I won’t. But I will chat to chefs, sure.

Do you talk about food and restaurants?
Actually, we talk about anything but food and restaurants. Usually, it’s ‘where’s the party? Where you going tonight?’ We’re not asking, ‘what’s your latest gluten free recipe bro?’ It’s like accountants: when they meet they don’t talk about spreadsheets or tax laws.

Do you find a lot of chefs are alpha males?
Well, I’d say yeah, most chefs are alpha males, but most of them are also great chefs. We probably talk about business more than anything. We’re all following each other on Instagram so it’s like, ‘I saw you’re opening a place in Dubai?’

Would you like to open a restaurant here?
I would love to do business in Dubai. This place is right up my alley. First of all I’m Middle Eastern, hello! My mother’s Armenian so she made all this stuff. I’m not so familiar with Emirati food but, really, we’re all working with the same basket of ingredients.

Geoffrey Zakarian is showing a demonstration on Friday March 3 from 3pm to 5pm at Etisalat Beach Canteen at the Al Islami Kitchen.