The No-Guilt Life

Chef Geoffrey Zakarian uses lessons learned from Le Cirque to “Iron Chef,” and tops them off with a cigar

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“I don’t smoke every day. I look at it as an extension of the life I enjoy leading. Is it bad for you? Anything in excess will be. But you can be a free human and choose to smoke once in a while. I take care of myself, I eat right and don’t do anything to excess. Does it affect my palate? I don’t think so. There are other things that will do that, too, whether it’s living in the city or eating spicy food all the time. Everyday, I taste thousands of things. And I feel confident in my decisions. And really—you can’t be a chain-cigar-smoker.”
Zakarian has had restaurants succeed—and he’s also had them fail. That’s just part of the business: “The failure rate for restaurants is 90 percent or more. Chefs open restaurants and some of them don’t work. But they still keep opening them. Even the best chefs have had that happen. Some books aren’t best-sellers. Some marriages don’t work out. In my world, batting .500 is failure. Batting .700 is only OK. At the end of the day, it’s about hospitality.”
Relaxation? Retirement? Those two words don’t exist in Zakarian’s vocabulary.
“Relaxation? I don’t know that state,” he says. “I’m most content when I’m outside with my kids, sharing something they’ve never seen before.” (He has two daughters, 5 and 3.) “When I fall asleep in the middle of a massage, I guess I’m relaxed. But I love being busy. I’m never retiring—ever. I can’t imagine a less interesting state of being.”
Guilty pleasures? “I’m never guilty. Perhaps licorice—good licorice. And rosé wine. I’ve stopped being guilty. If I feel like eating something, I eat it.”
Asked what he’d eat if he were given a choice of a last meal, he laughs and says, “That’s a morbid question. I’d have to go back and have someone cook for me who’s not alive. I’d probably have my aunts cook me an Armenian dinner. Stuffed grape leaves, Armenian beans, barley soup. That’s the appetizer. Anything with lamb. Definitely kibbeh. Turkish, Greek, Lebanese, even Israel—we all borrow from the same basket. It’s the same 10 to 15 ingredients.
“In life, everything sags. Entropy—the idea that everything eventually falls apart—is the driving force of physics. But you try to go higher. We’re all in the same boat—and that boat is going down. So enjoy the ride, savor the food and try to put your children on the next, best boat.”
Contributing editor Marshall Fine writes about movies and entertainment on his website,
danle ptitpede March 14, 2013 3:10pm ET
Interesting choice for an interview. I thought he sought bankruptcy and was sued for over $1M by 152 employees for unpaid overtimes wages.

Taylor Franklin March 16, 2013 12:08am ET
He filed for Chapter Seven personal bankruptcy thus automatically putting a hold on any litigation, including the class action lawsuit filed by the employees.

Two former business partners also sued him; however, it was settled out of court. Past problems with the NYC Department of Health as well.

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