By Lee Brian Schrager | August 29, 2011 | Food & Drink
The Tudor House dining room, with its warm, clean design, rich earth tones and vintage photographs of Miami Beach
You know Geoffrey Zakarian as the quick-witted recurring judge from the hit Food Network series Chopped, where he demonstrates an exceptional level of culinary knowledge garnered over the three decades he worked in and ran some of the most critically acclaimed kitchens in America. Zakarian is no stranger to South Florida, having opened the Delano’s Blue Door during the untamed ’90s. While more recently active in New York (as chef and partner of The Lambs Club and the now-closed Town and Country restaurants), he’s back with the Dream South Beach hotel’s Tudor House. The new gastro café features neighborhood American fare (think hearty meats and seafoods, such as organic buttermilk fried chicken with gingered slaw and black grouper cheeks with caulif lower, pearl onions and romesco) and a charming indoor/outdoor design in rich sepia tones and sustainable teak furniture. Zakarian recently sat down with Ocean Drive to provide a glimpse into how his extensive expertise—honed up north—translates to South Florida’s ever-evolving culinary landscape.
You’ve worked in plenty of renowned kitchens. Which has most influenced you professionally?
GEOFFREY ZAKARIAN: Le Cirque really set the standard of my career, both in cooking technique and my base philosophy of running restaurants.
After 30 successful years in the business, what’s your overall culinary point of view?
GZ: The way I see things definitely comes from the diner’s standpoint. I try very hard to see what’s missing and creatively fill that void. I always come at food from a historical perspective, looking backward for ways to determine my future culinary strategy.
Several of your restaurants have received three stars from The New York Times, and your Manhattan restaurant Country garnered a Michelin star in its first year. What does that mean to you?
GZ: I have been very lucky with reviews and blessed with wonderful staff. However, I think of the reviews as a snapshot of that particular few days in the restaurant’s history, because we are only as good as our last meal. I try to file the review as a memory and think of the future: How can we improve? How can we make the customer experience better? There’s no resting on your laurels in the restaurant business.
You also have a history in Miami, opening the Blue Door at the Delano. What was the culinary scene like here in the ’90s?
GZ: Miami in 1994 was not the same. Certainly South Beach was a bit unstable, crime was high, there was very little scene directly on South Beach and the hotels available were only moderate in their sophistication. But Ian Schrager really changed all of that almost overnight, with that magical design by Philippe Starck and the creation of a whole new hotel lobby culture.
Tudor House is located inside the new Dream South Beach, at 11th and Collins. What’s the vibe like there?
GZ: It’s modern and lush with rich tones and textures, mixed, of course, with Art Deco. Truly there’s nothing like it on South Beach. There are different nooks and crannies in the hotel, as well. I love to sneak away up to the roof to have a sandwich and look out at the ocean.
What made you decide to come back to South Florida?
GZ: For years, I’ve wanted to come back to Miami and open something more local “Focusing on trends is a fool’s paradise from which you can never recover.” The Tudor House dining room, with its warm, clean design, rich earth tones and vintage photographs of Miami Beach West Coast oysters and neighborhood-focused, with great food and an approachable atmosphere—the kind of place someone could dine a few times during the week. For that kind of concept you need the right space. When Sant Chatwal—my partner in New York at The Lambs Club at The Chatwal hotel—presented me with the opportunity to put a concept inside his new Dream South Beach boutique hotel, I knew that the pieces had come into place, and this concept that has been running around in my mind for years could finally come to life.
How is this restaurant different from your others?
GZ: The locale of each restaurant really informs a concept for me. Here at Tudor House, we are striving for a neighborhood gastro café with really great products, done simply. I am trying to create something not just for the seasons, but a place that the people of Miami can use over and over. This is why our pricing is gentle and our service is so attentive.
What are some of your favorite dishes?
GZ: We are doing some great stuff: a Greek salad with capers and pine nuts, fresh-made pickles garnished with beautiful, fresh mustard seeds, oysters, grilled octopus—fun, easy food. I’m really loving the egg-white frittata and house-made jams, like mango, that we have for breakfast.
You’re widely recognized as a judge on the popular Food Network show Chopped. How do you balance being a chef and a TV star?
GZ: Well, “star” is not quite what I represent. I get to share my experience with a wonderful group of talented people. I learn as much as they do. Balancing my time is always difficult, but sometimes the more you have on your plate, the more you can focus. And waking up very early helps, too.
Tell us three ingredients the home cook should always have on hand to turn a good plate into a “wow” dish.
GZ: Maldon sea salt, Chardonnay vinegar and French butter.
What do you think is the next big culinary trend?
GZ: Hopefully good service! In all seriousness, focusing on trends is a fool’s paradise from which you can never recover.