Andrew Zimmerman starting working in restaurants in his twenties while following a life-long dream to become a musician but soon realized he enjoyed cooking more. Zimmerman spent three years working as a sous chef under Renato Sommelia, later graduating from the French Culinary Institute in 2000. After spending a few years on the East Coast, Zimmerman accepted a position at the Park Hyatt Chicago working alongside Chef Sandro Gamba. He later went on to serve as executive chef for MOD with restaurateur Terry Alexander, and helped open Del Toro. Zimmerman returned to the Park Hyatt as the chef de cuisine at NoMI. In 2008, he met Emmanuel Nony, who recruited him to head up the kitchen at Sepia. Zimmerman has since garnered many awards, including a James Beard award nomination last year for Best Chef – Great Lakes, as well as Michelin stars in 2011 and 2012, a Rising Star award from StarChefs.com in 2011, and a 2012 Jean Banchet Awards nomination for “Chef of the Year” in 2012. Zimmerman lives with his wife Lindsey, a clothing designer, and daughter in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood.
FE&S: What was your first job in the foodservice industry?
Andrew Zimmerman: My first job in foodservice was as a dishwasher at The Lobsterman on the Jersey shore. I was fifteen. Awful job.
FE&S: Who influenced you the most in your career?
Andrew Zimmerman: The person who influenced me the most is Renato Sommelia. He is an Italian chef who I worked for in the late ’90s. It was early in the “serious” phase of my cooking career and he taught me so many of the foundations of good cooking.
FE&S: What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career?
Andrew Zimmerman: The most important thing I’ve learned is to trust my instincts, which is also a lesson from Renato.
FE&S: Name one foodservice company you admire most, other than your own?
Andrew Zimmerman: The foodservice company, other than mine, that I admire most is One Off Hospitality Group (Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia). They always seem to have their finger on the next good idea, their food and service are terrific and they treat their people well.
FE&S: Any interesting hobbies?
Andrew Zimmerman: I like to prune espaliered fruit trees.
FE&S: Who do you admire most in the foodservice industry?
Andrew Zimmerman: Paul Virant (chef/owner of Vie, partner/chef of Perennial Virant). He has great restaurants, is well-liked and respected in the community, supports local, sustainable farming, makes great food and has (seemingly) a good work/life balance.
FE&S: If I were just starting out in the foodservice industry, what advice would you give me?
Andrew Zimmerman: Make sure you really love it. There are a lot of sacrifices that you will make to be successful in this business. If you don’t love the work, you just won’t last.