Jay Zygmunt, Founder of The Dishelin Guide

He's a lifelong New Yorker and dining expert, and he has a Compell'd list for just about everything food-related.

Jay Zygmunt is someone who truly understands the power of a trusted recommendation. As someone whose passion for food and exploration grew over time, he now has a trusted friend for every type of recommendation he's looking for... and of course, is the one offering so many trusted recommendations for so many people, especially over on his blog and social media accounts. Read on for a bit of his story, and some great tips for dining out safely!

You’re a lifelong New Yorker - was exploring and finding the best food always a passion area of yours?

I have always been into food, but I didn’t realize there was much to be passionate about when I was growing up. My mom thought the best way to cook a vegetable was to steam it in the microwave. Things started to change in high school when a friend asked me to help him create the perfect burger. I would go over to his backyard most days after school to test out different seasonings and blends. That’s really when I began to see finding the best food as a worthwhile pursuit. Then, when I moved to the city after college, I saw the whole world of what was out there and I knew I had to experience it all. 

"When I moved to the city after college, I saw the whole world of what was out there and I knew I had to experience it all."

You have a fascinating background, having been an investment banker prior to creating The Dishelin Guide. Tell us a little about your journey, and how you made the jump from finance to food!

When I was working in investment banking I really only had time to work, eat and occasionally sleep. Seeking out the best restaurants on weekends became my only outlet. Word of my pursuit spread around the office and people in other departments started calling asking where they should go. I started The Dishelin Guide as a place to direct people and keep track of what I was eating. I remember being shocked a year or so later when a restaurant invited me in for a free meal in exchange for a post. It just kind of took off from there. 

You have so many fabulous lists on Compell’d - tell us about your philosophy when it comes to exploring and finding your next favorite place, dish, hot sauce, etc.

Research and finding people you trust are key. That’s why I was so drawn to Compell’d. In New York I have a small group of people whose recommendations I know will always be good... and even then, not for everything. I have a steak guy, a sushi girl and a hot sauce shop, to name a few. When I travel I spend hours combing through local blogs and instagrams looking for people who see food the way I do. It’s time consuming but well worth it. 

"Research and finding people you trust are key."

2020 hasn’t been great when it comes to food and travel, but we love how you’re still encouraging us to explore with your outdoor dining lists and what not - what are some new habits you’ve gained in 2020 that have helped you continue to explore in a safe way?

2020 has certainly been a challenge. Obviously the travel side has gone out the window. But I’ve learned to make the most of the limited options that exist now. When I order delivery I preheat my oven to 350 and warm it up for 5-10 minutes which I find gets most things pretty close to what would come out if you were actually dining at the restaurant. In terms of dining out, I feel that getting there is often the most dangerous part. I don’t really trust the subway so I have been riding my bike whenever I can. Most restaurants are doing a good job with social distancing and cleanliness so I’ve been pretty comfortable with the actual outdoor dining experiences. Just BYO hand sanitizer. 

What’s next for you?

It’s hard to say how things are going to shake out in the post-Covid world. I’m worried about what the restaurant and travel industries will look like for the next couple years. I hope I can continue showing people great places and foods they otherwise might not know about. Longer term I’d love to get some Dishelin food tours going or maybe a travel show if people are willing to tolerate me on camera. 

Thank you so much for sharing this with, Jay! We love your Favorite Outdoor Dining list.

September 9, 2020

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