You may know him as an Iron Chef, the superstar of the restaurant world, author, fashion icon or iconic television presence but at home, Geoffrey Zakarian, or GZ as his close friends call him, is the doting dad to three young kids and is exactly as down-to-earth as you’d hope him to be. We were lucky enough to chat with our favorite Chopped judge recently and not only did he tell us all about what he really thinks of Ina Garten’s cooking, but he also let us take a look inside his fridge and some of his cabinets.

SheKnows: Tell us a little bit about what’s in your fridge. 

Geoffrey Zakarian: “We have a giant fridge, but a lot of it is full of condiments. We shop three to four times a week, so everything is dialed up around those trips. For us, it’s important to have a full pantry stocked and then add on fresh proteins throughout the week. In the fridge, we also have dairy replacements because one of my daughters is dairy-free. So, full-fat milk, almond milk and oat milk. We also have yogurt, mustard and lots of pickles. The fridge usually has a big assortment to use for breakfast – eggs and a variety of pork products like bacon, are all things I use during the week. And, a lot of cheese.”

SK: What’s the strangest ingredient we would find in your cabinets or pantry?

GZ: “With so much metropolitan and global influence on food, what is strange to one person, isn’t to others. I have a tremendous selection of vinegar. There are more than twenty to thirty types of vinegar in my pantry.”

SK: What’s your favorite winter comfort food?

GZ: “For winter, I go for a roast ribeye stew or some version of Beef Bourguignon. A slow-cooked ribeye with roasted vegetables would be one of my favorites. It’s a go-to comfort food because it’s easy to serve family-style, and once you put it all together on top of the oven, you throw it in the oven for three hours to slow cook. Leave it alone, and it comes out amazing.”

SK: What does a typical breakfast look like for you?

GZ: “With three kids under twelve, we believe breakfast is pretty important. If you can get kids to eat breakfast, they will have a better chance of success in school. We do large, but simple meals. We always have eggs, protein and fresh fruit. To mix it up, one day it will be poached eggs and the next day we’ll do omelets or oatmeal. We’ve also been drinking fresh fruit shakes to get more berries lately, and eating a ton of avocados. When you have kids, you know they eat with their eyes first!”

SK: We are Ina Garten mega fans over here at SheKnows. Do you have a favorite Ina Garten recipe?

GZ: “Her recipes are so endearing because they are go-to recipes. When you cook Ina Garten’s spaghetti with lemon and shrimp, it’s perfect all of the time. If you don’t know how to do a vegetable stew or a Ratatouille, you look at her recipes and they work every single time. Ina’s soups are just outstanding. Her recipes are reliable and delicious, and that’s why she is so successful.

SK: What was your most memorable meal?

GZ: “It’s hard for me to say one favorite meal. I don’t have one. I have a number of meals from throughout my career, and of course, my family meals. Meals are sheer memory. Every time I’m able to cook and sit down with my kids for dinner it is memorable. I don’t know how long that will last and it can be a daily struggle for us to get together. But, the best meals are when you have all of your family together to cook and enjoy.”

SK: Do you have any controversial food opinions (some people think avocados are trash or cilantro tastes like soap)?

GZ: “I eat a ton of avocados and like cilantro! One person’s controversial food is another’s favorite. When people hear what I’ve eaten over the years on Chopped, some gag. But, in other areas of the world, the food is a delicacy or the most central protein they eat.”

SK: What’s the one ingredient you hate to work with or encounter in someone else’s dish? 

GZ: “Truffle oil. As chefs, we encounter many foods that are inferior to the actual product. If it’s not fresh, don’t use it. Don’t use a substitute for something that isn’t in season. Use the actual ingredient, or avoid the dish altogether.”

SK: What is your one favorite appliance or tool in the kitchen?

GZ: “We use a lot of cans in our pantry. Chickpeas, canned tuna, purees and Campbell’s soups. We like to use canned soups as starters for some of our favorite recipes and have them in stock in our pantry — we have a ton of them! So I’d say I grab for a simple, old-schooled can opener pretty often.” 

SK: We know you aren’t a big fan of fast food but if you had to eat one meal at a fast-food restaurant, which one would you choose?

GZ: “I’m not a big fan of fast food but I am a fan of good food. And there is a lot of good food, done quickly. Now there is quick service, which is great. I’d say in New York, I would pop into a Sweetgreen. And if I had to eat at a true fast food joint, it would be In-N-Out Burger out in Los Angeles. Their burgers are fresh and they make everything in-house. But fast food is always my last resort.”

SK: What’s the strangest thing you have ever eaten? 

GZ: “River rat. Nutria is a rat that is found in the bayous of Louisiana. They are about six pounds and live in the water and grass there. It was of course, a Chopped ingredient.” 

SK: Would you eat it again? 

GZ: “Not if I don’t have to!”

SK: What are some of your favorite dishes to cook with your family?

GZ: “We love to do risottos and pastas together with Bolognese sauce too. My daughters are loving soups with grilled cheeses and Paninis lately, so we always keep soup stocked in the pantry. We like to make it too, but we don’t always have time so it’s helpful to have a shortcut. We are busy, so we always count on our pantry. It’s one of those things, if you stock your pantry well you won’t go hungry. It makes it easy to cook something up that’s easy and kid-friendly together.”

SK: What are some of your daughters’ favorite dishes at the moment?

GZ: “Over the holidays we made a dish that we designed for Campbell’s as a part of their Kids in the Kitchen program. It’s a Brussels sprouts and sausage casserole with a parmesan herb crust, and frankly, they inhaled it. The recipe uses the Cream of Mushroom soup as a cooking shortcut to give it an even creamier base. Anna and Madeline love anything we can cook together that is warm, crispy and creamy, and that is exactly why I created the recipe.”

SK: Do they ever turn their noses up at any of the meals you make?

GZ: “Yes, all the time! It’s because they can. If you are “yes,” they are “no” and if you are “no,” they are “yes.” It’s just a game you play! Typically whatever I put down for them, they eventually eat it. And much like I mentioned with our recipe for Campbell’s, if you cook something up together, they are more likely to enjoy the process and devour the dish.”

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