From Michelin-starred names and celebrity chefs to experiential cooks and local restaurateurs, Expo 2020 Dubai is a culinary hub like no other. In this series, we profile the chefs invited to be a part of the world's fair and gain a preview of the menu they’ve put together for discerning diners.
A stellar name, if I may say so myself, The National (no connection to this publication) is located at Al Wasl Plaza at the Expo 2020 Dubai site. An outpost of American-Armenian chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s eponymous New York City restaurant, itself modelled after the grand cafes of Europe, the all-day bistro concept serves many of its signature dishes, priced here between Dh35 and Dh160.
Cafe culture is at the heart of The National, which focuses on seasonal ingredients, classic cooking techniques – “My cooking style is classic French with modern applications and twists,” the chef tells The National – and modern American cuisine. The restaurant is also known for its expert mixologists, and was a pioneer in serving meticulously crafted non-alcoholic drinks for the adult palate, which are all the rage now.
Meat eaters are in for a treat, as Zakarian has brought two of The National NYC’s most beloved dishes to the Expo: the cote de boeuf bone-in rib-eye steak and the NTL lamb burger. “The burger is one of our mainstays and a personal favourite of mine,” says the chef, who also describes the restaurant’s wood-fired pizzas as “terrific”.
When it comes to ingredients, all dishes incorporate high-quality olive oil that, says Zakarian, “I always have on hand”, plus plenty of fresh herbs, citrus and good quality sea salt.
“I love Mediterranean and Italian food, so naturally all of those terrific flavours of the sea and land define my style. I am also inspired both by the grand cafes of Europe and by classic American dining rooms. The National at Expo 2020 Dubai has those traces and is a lively and fun environment where you can enjoy wonderful American cuisine prepared with the best ingredients and expert care.
“Meanwhile, the bar serves up [beverages] that feature unique ingredients, fresh juices and careful techniques to make a perfectly balanced drink,” says Zakarian, who has been in the F&B business for more than four decades.
Founder of award-winning restaurants including The Lambs Club in Manhattan and Georgie in Los Angeles, as well as author of Town | Country and winner of the Iron Chef America cooking show, Massachusetts-born Zakarian has Armenian and Polish roots. His interest in food began, he says, when he watched and learnt as “my mother and aunts made everything we ate from scratch, every single day. It affects deeply the way I prepare food for my family and guests in my restaurants to this day".
At 21, he attended The Culinary Institute of America and upon graduating, he says: “I threw myself into the NYC world of restaurants. The rest of my career happened as result of taking every opportunity that presented itself in the industry and that made sense.”
While he has guided a number of aspiring chefs and cook-show contestants over the decades, Zakarian names Alain Sailhac, Sirio Maccioni (both of Le Cirque fame) and French chef Daniel Boulud as his mentors. “Collectively, I worked six years for them, and they taught me about food and hospitality at the highest level of performance.”