Geoffrey Zakarian still feels good about his decision to ditch Donald Trump.
“I’m very happy I did it. I sleep very well at night,” says the Iron Chef, who last summer withdrew from plans to open a restaurant in one of Trump’s hotels, following the presidential candidate’s comments about immigration. Trump filed a lawsuit for breach of contract. Zakarian countersued.
But the Iron Chef hasn’t let the drama slow him down.
Zakarian — who’s starred in several series including “Chopped,” “Iron Chef America” and “The Kitchen” — is back in front of the camera.
His latest, Food Network’s “Cooks vs. Cons,” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. and brings something entirely different to the table, combining culinary competition with game-show elements.
In the show, home chefs face off against professionals, and the judges don’t know who’s who until after they've declared a winner.
We caught up with Zakarian to discuss the inspiration behind the show, how we can up our own cooking game and his thoughts on the Donald.
Blast from the past
If you’re familiar with TV’s “To Tell the Truth,” you may feel a wave of nostalgia. On the game show — which aired in the 1950s through the early 2000s — contestants would try to fool a group of judges, who then guessed which ones were imposters. This premise loosely inspired the new show, according to Zakarian, who grew up watching that classic.
On “Cooks vs. Cons,” “The reveal isn’t until the end, so you get to focus and pay attention,” the Le Cirque alum says, adding that the outcome is always surprising. “It’s fun and it’s not scripted. They’re all trying to fool me. It’s a mystery and I enjoy it so much.”
On Donald Trump
The chef stands by his decision. “We share a different set of morals and values,” he says of Trump. “My whole life is spent with Mexican-Americans. Seventy-five percent of my staff is Mexican-American. They’re my backbone. That’s a family.” According to Zakarian, he’s received plenty of support, continuing, “I stand by what I did. I’m very happy I did it. I sleep very well at night.”
Since age 4, Zakarian has felt like a professional eater. “It was sort of like a sport in my house,” he jokes, attributing this to his Middle Eastern heritage, where “all we do is talk about food.” Not only did he grow up constantly eating, but he frequently cooked with his family. Zakarian says he didn’t go looking for a career in the food industry — it found him.
Biggest piece of advice
Whether you’re a trained chef or you can barely make toast, Zakarian's best cooking advice is: “You’ve got to keep making mistakes," he says. Practice makes perfect. "The good thing with food is that when you make a mistake, you can still eat it."
Even if you don’t know how to cook, you can still tune into this food-fueled showdown. As some extra incentive to watch “Cooks vs. Cons,” the host points out that it premieres on a holiday. He says with a laugh, “It’s on St. Paddy’s Day, so hopefully everyone will be well-lubricated.”