From the Chopping Block to the Dinner Party: Geoffrey Zakarian Previews His Star Appearance

Hear from Geoffrey to find out what he'll be looking for in the Food Network Star hopefuls he'll judge this weekend.

Guest Judge Geoffrey Zakarian, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 11.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

When it comes to judging chef competitors, few others do it as well — or as frequently — as the Chopped panel, including Geoffrey Zakarian, which means that the remaining 10 rivals are in for a world of surprise when he shows up to judge this Sunday night. From the time constraints to the pressures to please, he's familiar with the issues affecting the finalists, and he's no stranger to doling out constructive criticism in an effort to help them better their performances. Come Sunday, he and Sunny Anderson, one of his fellow co-hosts on The Kitchen, will be on hand to attend a dinner party thrown by the competitors; ultimately Geoffrey, Sunny, and mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis will evaluate who has the Star potential to go the distance in the business.

Recently Star Talk caught up with Geoffrey to find out what he'll be looking for in Star hopefuls this weekend. Read on below for his insider take, and find out what he believes to be one of the best pieces of advice he's ever received.

When you meet them, the finalists will be only three weeks into this journey. What are you hoping to see in them?

Geoffrey Zakarian: Well, I always try to see if they have real fire. How disappointed they get from setbacks — this says a lot.

Giada has said that she focuses on molding finalists' personalities, while Bobby's all about their cooking chops. Do you think one piece of the puzzle is more important in this competition: the camera presence versus the food?

GZ: As a chef, I think food is foremost. But you need to learn to understand the camera and the power it has.

Fill in the blanks: I have no tolerance for _____ items on the plate and _____ in a presentation.

GZ: I have no tolerance for superfluous items on the plate and height in a presentation.

As a Chopped judge, you, of course, know all about chefs cooking under pressure. What do you think is the biggest mistake a finalist can make in a competition like this?
GZ: Overcomplicating things and losing focus
How is judging Food Network Star finalists different than judging chefs on Chopped?

GZ: It's very similar. You need to think on your feet and pull out flavors from virtually nowhere.

You've competed on Chopped All-Stars and Cutthroat Kitchen before, so you, too, know all about pressure. What's your greatest lesson learned from those experiences? 

GZ: Keep focused on the biggest threat to your success, your own self.

What's the best piece of advice you've been given in this business that you think might be beneficial to the finalists?
GZ: Use the fear and nerves to your advantage.
These Star hopefuls want to capture the spotlight on their own, but on The Kitchen, you share the fame with four other co-hosts, including Sunday's other special guest, Sunny. How's that different than being by yourself on TV?

GZ: In some ways it's better, because I learn every day from my co-hosts. Plus, I have a blast on set! So I will take whatever is coming my way and make the best of it.

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