Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian isn't saying "yes" or "no" to reports that he's opening a restaurant in St. Petersburg, but he will confirm that he has been checking out spaces.
"I just like it down here. There are a lot of people with a lot of taste. It's a dining-out market with a great lifestyle. It's growing and a great environment for business," he said.
Rumors have swirled that St. Petersburg's BayWalk — newly renamed the Shops at St. Pete — is on his radar. Recent marketing materials for the complex listed a steak house for Zakarian and an Asian fusion restaurant for fellow Food Network star Masaharu Morimoto. Complex owner Bill Edwards has remained mum on the subject, as did Zakarian, an Edwards friend and colleague, over the weekend. Zakarian was in the bay area working on several home-design projects in Tampa.
With a style often described as "modern" with roots in French cuisine, Zakarian got his start in New York's Le Cirque, eventually nabbing three stars from the New York Times for his restaurant Town and another three for Country. He went on to open a couple of more New York restaurants, to oversee the food and beverage program at Atlantic City's the Water Club at Borgata and to open the Tudor House at Dream South Beach in Miami. In 2013 and 2014, he will open restaurants aboard Norwegian Cruise Line ships.
Some of his affection for the Tampa Bay area can be explained by family ties — his family owns a construction company in Tampa and the chef maintains an office here.
A victor on Iron Chef and a judge on Chopped since 2006, Zakarian has other irons in the fire. With friend James Ramos, who owns a design firm in South Tampa, he has embarked on a kitchen-design project, contributing his professional experience to five local houses, four on Davis Islands and one in South Tampa.
While visiting here, Zakarian ate at some new local hot spots. He had high praise for Jeannie Pierola's new Edison, and raved about the just-opened Oxford Exchange, owned by his friend Blake Casper, whose company owns 52 McDonald's restaurants in the area.
The Oxford Exchange is "a knockout. A real gift to Tampa Bay," he said.
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293.