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Geoffrey Zakarian says ups and downs have taught him caution

February 21, 2015

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Geoffrey Zakarian knows the odds. He knows all too well that the chances of succeeding in the restaurant world are so remote as to be almost comical.

Of course, the Food Network star and much-lauded chef also has beaten those odds. Multiple times. But he says his losses have built him as much as his victories. “You cannot enter this business without having those (failures),” he said Friday during an interview at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. “It’s not possible to not get beaten up a bit, and I think it adds to you.”

Zakarian got his start working for some of the industry’s top names, and later helped revolutionize the notion of chic hotel restaurants. But there were failures, too, including a bankruptcy and a short-lived food program for the Gap and Old Navy. “You open 10 restaurants and three might not work. That’s just the way it is,” he said.

These days, he has several restaurants, including The Lambs Club in New York City, is a regular judge on Food Network’s “Chopped” and a host of the network’s chatty “The Kitchen.”

But the failures have taught him to make smart contingency plans and rely more on his instincts.

“There are a lot of seductive business opportunities that come along and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is going to be amazing.’ And then you’re like, ‘Hmm... Red flag,’” said Zakarian, who recently helped re-launch the iconic Palm Court at The Plaza hotel. “Now in my life, the red flag comes up a lot. When I listen to my gut, I do well.”

For now, he’s enjoying his ride on “The Kitchen,” a show he said he auditioned for five times — along with 60 other chefs.

“What I don’t take seriously is that this will continue, because this might not continue and it probably won’t,” he said. “So I wake up with that in my mind and I guard against it.”

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