Andrew Zimmerman


Originally published on on July 2013

Chef Andrew Zimmerman from Chicago’s Sepia restaurant will be making a guest appearance at the Park Hyatt Tokyo from Tuesday, July 9 to Saturday, July 13. Sepia has been included in the Michelin guide for the last three years while Zimmerman was the executive chef. Metropolis asked him a few question about what Japanese ingredients he uses in Chicago, what cookbooks he has in his collection and… music.

Is this your first time to Japan?
I have only visited Japan once: in 1989 as a member of a band that played one night at Waseda University and one night at Yokohama Arena for the One ‘89 World Pop Festival.” I was just 19 years old. I didn’t yet know the path my career would take or that I would cook professionally at all, but I fell in love with udon and yakitori on that trip.

What are you looking forward to in Tokyo?
I am looking forward to eating all the things I didn’t know I wanted to eat last time and looking at them through the eyes of a chef this time. More ramen, yakitori, tempura—and a couple of Michelin-rated Japanese restaurants.

It says on your website that your very intriguing Sepia menu is “ingredient-driven.” You also incorporate some Japanese ingredients like miso Hollandaise and togarashi on asparagus, wagyu beef, and maitake mushrooms. Are there other Japanese ingredients you are curious to try and include in your menu?
I would say probably more than anything else: the seafood. We created one dish that is designed to be adaptable to the awesome variety we find at the Tsukiji market. Coming from the American Midwest, Japan’s seafood is going to be thrilling.

You are a graduate of the French Culinary Institute. What lessons from culinary school do you still follow today?
I graduated in the spring of 2000. Besides the basics of French technique that I learned there, I try to uphold the commitment to the true craft of cooking.

We’re curious, have you seen Lost in Translation filmed at the Park Hyatt Tokyo?
As a long-time Bill Murray fan, yes I have seen it (and yes, I re-watched it once I knew I was going to be cooking there).

You worked at the Park Hyatt Chicago in the past. What do you think makes the Park Hyatt brand unique?
As the former Chef de Cuisine of NoMI at the Park Hyatt Chicago, I think the commitment to the quality of the guest’s experience—from every aspect: rooms, cuisine, amenities, design aesthetic, etc.—is what sets the Park Hyatt brand apart.

What are your favorite Japanese foods?
Ramen, mochi, sushi, yakitori

Are there any Japanese chefs that inspire you?
Masaharu Morimoto—he is the most well-known Japanese chef in the States and his ability to fuse the food of Japan with other traditions is something that speaks to me as an American “melting pot chef.” Jiro Ono is an example of the ultimate dedication to the craft. Yoshihiro Narisawa and Seiji Yamamoto for their beautiful food—which I hope I can try on this trip.

Are there any Japanese techniques that you use in your kitchen?
We make dashi, we make a version of chawan mushi with uni that I believe is very good. We sometimes cure delicate fish with kombu. We use ingredients maybe more than techniques: miso, togarashi, yuzu, yuzu kosho, white soy, sake, shisho, shishito peppers, and katsuobushi all make appearances on our menu throughout the year.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks?
Zuni Café by Judy Rodgers, both of Fergus Henderson’s books (Nose to Tail and Beyond Nose to Tail), anything by Thomas Keller, Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen by Vineet Bhatia, SPQR by Matthew Accarino, Eleven Madison Park by Daniel Humm and Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant.

It says on your website that the cuisine at Sepia are direct, seasonally-based Mediterranean dishes—which should do well with the inclusion of Japanese ingredients. Any thoughts on this?
That is one of the things that I am looking forward to most: great ingredients that allow the flavors behind the ideas to be fully realized.

Do you have any signature dishes?
There are dishes that come back every year or so, in season. Crispy soft cooked egg with morels, ramps, asparagus, duck gizzard and truffle. English pea and mascarpone agnolotti, pickled shallot, radish, parmigiano and mint as well as sea scallop, celery root, blood sausage and tangerine.

What do Tokyoites have to look forward to with your visit to the Park Hyatt Tokyo?
Hopefully, a very fine meal. There are a number of people working toward making that happen. I hope we succeed.

What do you cook at home on your day off? Or, do you go out to eat?
My wife and I have two very young children so we haven’t been going out much as of late. Like most people, I tend to rely on a few staples: roast chicken and bread salad, a couple different Indian curries, homemade pizza, pastas and the occasional overly complicated dinner for friends.

What do you look for in a good meal when dining out?
I look for ingredients that make sense together, that are in season and treated with respect. And I look for something relaxing…

It’s interesting that you started out as a musician. What kind of music is played at Sepia?
The playlist at Sepia is extremely varied from extreme Swedish metal to James Brown; from Yo-Yo Ma to The Black Keys. Not too much current pop though… we have to draw the line somewhere.

Five-course dinner with Chef Andrew Zimmerman from Sepia at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, ¥19,000. Tel: 03-5323-3458 for reservations.