(NEW YORK) Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and his wife, Margaret Zakarian, have known Marc Murphy and Pam Murphy for six years. The guys met on the set of Chopped, and there’s been many a boisterous Hamptons dinner party at the Murphys’ Bridgehampton abode since. Over afternoon cocktails, bone marrow, and salmon tartare at one of Murphy’s spots, Landmarc, and then iced tea and burgers at Zakarian’s Lambs Club, the rather frank quartet dished on their friendships, relationships, the resto biz, and more.
BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV
How did you all meet?
Geoffrey: A wife-swapping website.
Marc: Is that the appropriate term?
Geoffrey: Was that the one?
Margaret: Whatever Geoffrey dreamt about how we met, that’s how it happened.
Marc: Here’s the deal. We started working on Chopped together in 2007. It’s kind of like a fraternity on the show; you have this sort of bond because you’re working together for 12 hours on set.
Do you remember the first meal you ate together as a foursome?
Geoffrey: My wife has a memory, I don’t!
Margaret: At Ted Allen’s house, for a Chopped finale barbecue.
Marc: He always makes a ton of food.
Geoffrey: The four of us have been hanging out ever since, because we’re all sort of damaged. But we’re damaged in a fun way.
Pam: Speak for yourself! Wait, you think we’re damaged?
Geoffrey: You’re definitely damaged.
How did the wives hit it off?
Pam: I think Margaret and I were meant to be friends some day.
Geoffrey: They both run our businesses.
Margaret: Everyone kept telling us we had to meet.
Marc: Geoffrey and I are the faces of our restaurants and brands, and we have these two beautiful women supporting us. Sometimes they bitch and moan about those two f*cking idiots who are always out and shaking hands and kissing babies. They can sort of commiserate about that. There are lots of similarities in our lives, businesses, and relationships. Was that too deep?
Pam: We’re the wives of these chefs: no one else could do this job with as much passion as we can. No one is going to watch out for these guys like we can!
Margaret: It’s not so much commiserating as it is sharing business advice. We trade more business advice than kid advice.
Pam: And we like to share Net-a-Porter-isms with each other.
You both have six-year olds. Are they pals?
Pam: I have a son, and Margaret has a daughter. I hope they get married one day. They are so cute together. There would be very good food at that wedding!
How did each couple meet?
Geoffrey: Margaret and I are in love with each other. That doesn’t happen a lot. It’s a beautiful thing.
Pam: Marc and I are sort of a long story. I worked in magazines, and at one point I started a magazine called Madison. We decided to have a food column, and my business partner said she knew a chef; it was Marc. We brought him in for an interview in 1992, and he arrived on a motorcycle. I asked my partner what his story was, and she responded, “He’s bad news, stay away from him.” It was such a bummer, because he was so cute. We flirted on the phone, but I didn’t see him for two years—we saw each other at a party and he asked me out for dinner…but I was actually getting married the next week.
So how’d you finally end up together?
Pam: We reconnected in 2000; we didn’t really stay in touch. Things in my [previous] marriage didn’t work, I saw Marc out, and the rest is history. We’ve been together for 11 years.
How long have you each been working together professionally?
Geoffrey: Margaret and I have worked together for five years.
Marc: We started 10 years ago.
Geoffrey: That’s insane!
How often do you guys eat at each others’ restaurants?
Marc: Not that much. We like to go out to other restaurants.
Pam: When you’re at your own restaurant, you’re watching every server, thinking they messed up this or that.
Where are some recent spots you’ve dined at together?
Marc: We went to ABC Kitchen recently.
Pam: And we love Pierre’s in Bridgehampton.
Does everyone order separately or is it a communal affair?
Geoffrey: We share everything!
Marc: Geoffrey likes to take control.
Geoffrey: I’m a control freak. I ask people what they want, and then I don’t listen.
Marc: I much prefer that! At a lot of restaurants, I put down the menu, the waiter comes around and asks what I want, I say, “Whatever you want me to have for dinner.” I like when other people choose. I like everything. I do that a lot with the wine list, too. I don’t have to make any decisions. It’s great.
Are there any picky eaters in this bunch?
Pam: I’m vegan.
Margaret: I only eat raw.
Marc: Margaret eats too much.
Pam: We’re kidding.
At Marc and Pam’s Hamptons abode, what kind of houseguests are Geoffrey and Margaret?
Geoffrey: We set up everything. We do all the cooking.
Pam: They bring all the food, all the alcohol.
Marc: Margaret rubs my feet. But really, there could be six or 36 people coming for dinner on any given night, so it’s always nice when a friend who’s a chef is there. When people ask to help in the kitchen, I tell them, “You’re not going to be of any help, please move away.” You start someone off slicing carrots, then you look at what they’ve cut and you’re like, “Well, that’s not going to work.”
Pam: He’s talking about me.
Margaret: I was helpful! I was helpful! I cooked one of the main dishes!
Marc: It’s nice to have people at dinner who are also in the business. They know service! They know that glasses have to be on the table before the wine gets opened.
What’s the vibe like when Geoffrey and Marc share a kitchen?
Marc: We have French training, from our times at Le Cirque, so we have the same language.
Geoffrey: We didn’t overlap there, but we share a French sensibility when it comes to food. We both worked in Paris. That’s why we really get along!
What’s a typical menu like when you cook out East together?
Pam: Something on the grill, for sure.
Marc: Instead of an appetizer, we put things out on a board, like pâté or cheese.
Margaret: You need to have some food out right at the beginning…
Geoffrey: …Or your guests will get bombed.
Do you guys ever do clambakes?
Marc: Clambakes are actually very complicated. You’ve got to layer all these rocks and seaweed. People up north [in New England] are only let outside two months a year because it’s so damn cold. So they come up with these cockamamie recipes! What I do is put 12 clams, garlic, parsley, a little bit of lemon and white wine in tin foil, make a closed-up little purse of it, and put them right on the grill. People can just throw them on a paper plate and they’re ready to eat.
Are lobster rolls totally overrated?
Marc: We eat them all year long in Ditch Plains, and we sell a lot of lobster rolls in our restaurants. It’s a very, very popular dish.
Pam: Lobster rolls are a good thing!
Why don’t either of you chefs have restaurants out East?
Geoffrey: That’s on purpose.
Marc: I don’t want to be out there for the weekend and get a phone call that the grill guy didn’t show up and I gotta go work. But, we do have a catering company, Benchmarc Events, that does events out East.
Geoffrey: Bottom line is, we don’t have the interest in investing in a restaurant that has a 90-day season. Why would you want to make something that doesn’t make money? It doesn’t make sense.
Do you guys get approached about doing a Hamptons project?
Marc: People always talk to us about it.
Geoffrey: All the time!
Marc: We know how to cook, so we don’t really need to go out to eat there. I like to go surfing in Montauk in Ditch Plains, and nearby there are fishermen that sell fish right off their boats.
Geoffrey: Why would you go to a restaurant that charges $36 for a piece of fish, and you don’t even know where it came from? It’s so easy for us to cook.
How did you get into surfing, Marc?
Marc: My wife bought me a surfboard years ago as a Father’s Day present, thinking it would look nice leaning on a wall. Surfing is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life! I’m not good at it, but I still try to do it, and it’s a lot of fun.
What do you eat après–surf?
Marc: Sometimes I stop at Cyril’s for jerk chicken—theirs is the best! There’s this little Spanish bodega in Montauk behind a gas station that has braised pork butt and rice and beans. I sit in the car and eat it before driving home. It’s perfect.
Have you ever fished out East?
Marc: I’ve taken a paddleboard out and tried to fish off of it. I was hoping for some bass.
Geoffrey: If you put glass on a hook, striped bass will eat it. They eat anything! It’s the most indiscriminate fish.
AND! Geoffrey Zakarian Sets Sail…
What’re you working on lately, besides The Lambs Club and The National?
We just opened a couple restaurants on a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, Norwegian Breakaway, and we’re opening two more on another ship. I’m also working on a couple of books and a few Food Network pilots.
Sounds busy! So are you a fan of cruise ships?
I’ve never been on a cruise ship in my life!
Are you now intrigued, now that you have a resto on one?
I certainly am. I mean, this cruise ship is like a floating cosmopolitan hotel. It’s amazing. You wouldn’t know you’re on a ship.
How do you ensure that the quality’s top notch?
We train all these chefs in our NYC kitchens. Also, all the food is from the same providers as our restaurants!
What will your inaugural cruise’s port of call be?
Probably St. Barth’s.
Lastly, what’s something we might not know about Marc?
He’s been a racecar driver, a clown, and now a chef. He’s also an amazing politician: he’s heavily involved in the NRA [National Restaurant Association], working on minimum wage initiatives.
PLUS! Marc Murphy Fills Us In On His Latest Projects…
What’s on the docket for you this fall?
We’ve partnered with Scott Gerber of Gerber Group to open a restaurant in October called Kingside at the Viceroy Hotel.
Do you have any reservations about doing your first resto nestled in a hotel?
It’s a good marriage. If it was another brand, I’d have to think about it a little more. But the Viceroy brand is so cool. They actually have a director of vibes! Any hotel that has a director of vibes is fine by me! I don’t want to open a restaurant in a stuffy place; I want to be in somewhere fun.
Are you going to seek any advice from Geoffrey?
I wouldn’t listen to him! Just kidding. I will probably, definitely listen. I’ve already had some questions for him, and I’ll probably have more. With 24-hour F & B service, you have to do room service, too.
Will it look like another Landmarc?
It’s being designed by Roman and Williams, and it has a very different look: It’s a downtown restaurant, in midtown.