March 2016 saw the opening of Fendi’s grand flagship store in Rome. Situated in a 17th-century Palazzo, it also boasts over the top two floors of Palazzo Fendi the newest ZUMA restaurant. The German chef Rainer Becker is the mastermind behind one of the most successful restaurant stories. ZUMA is expanding rapidly but also cautiously. When in Miami IRMA had the opportunity to visit his place and could ask Mr. Becker a few questions.
IRMA: What exactly is modern Japanese cuisine?
Rainer Becker: I lived in Japan for many years and during that time I really understood the subtlety and nuances of Japanese food. However, with Zuma I wanted to bring Japanese dishes to a non-Japanese audience, so our flavours are more robust. Not many non-Japanese people have had the opportunity to spend significant time in Japan and to be submerged by the food culture, so Zuma, whilst authentic with the use of Japanese ingredients and cooking styles, is not traditional.
IRMA: Which kind of evening can you expect when you come to Zuma?
Rainer Becker: A fun one! We have three different kitchens and also a bar and lounge. We like to offer our guests a varied selection of areas to dine depending on their mood and the actual dining event itself — the bar, the lounge, the main dining area, the terrace and even the private room. Our menu too is designed for sharing and the three different kitchens allow you to create your own event, from the robata serving all kinds of grilled robatayaki cooking and the sushi counter where you can observe the chefs preparing the various sushi, sashimi and nigiri dishes. The main kitchen rounds off the whole dining experience and of course the buzz at the bar always sets the energy of the room.
IRMA: Which kind of events do you have at your restaurant?
Rainer Becker: Our private dining room really offers the ultimate Zuma dining experience for lunch, brunch or dinner. The terrace is also a very unique area where we host events. Larger groups have the option of having a full dining experience or a cocktail reception on the riverfront, and trust me, there’s nothing more spectacular than enjoying your meal while taking in views of the Miami skyline! It’s something I always make a point to do whenever I’m in town.
We recently implemented an on-board dining experience, which allows yacht owners to dock at the EPIC marina, where we are located, and we’ll simply take care of the rest. The on-board dining experience features premium menu offerings, along with a personalized sommelier consultation and visit from our chef. It’s quite the experience!
IRMA: You can find Zuma in a lot of places in the world like London, Istanbul, New York or Hong Kong. Is the atmosphere and decoration everywhere the same?
Rainer Becker: It will feel the same but not a copy. Since the first Zuma in London I had a very clear design idea and have worked with designer Nori Muramatsu to realize that vision. By using natural elements there is a core timelessness to the design and identity that our guests can relate to wherever they are. We do start from scratch with each location however and the city of course as well as the positioning of the site plays a big part in the design.
IRMA: Why the name Zuma?
Rainer Becker: It doesn’t mean anything, I just liked the sound. It is not a Japanese word so it’s a curious name for a Japanese restaurant, which I like but it also an international word – easy to say and easy to remember in any language.
IRMA: What is the dishes that you would definitely advice to a person coming for the first time?
Rainer Becker: To have a mixture, the original dishes like the sea bass with yuzu and truffle or the tuna tataki, a selection sashimi, some items form the robata, a salad – that way you get to enjoy all the different flavours and tastes and textures which is a fun way to dine.
IRMA: Your most wanted dish?
Rainer Becker: Barley miso chicken is a favourite for many of our customers. It has been on the menu since the beginning and is requested so often that we could never take it off. People know what they like.
IRMA: Besides Zuma in Miami, what is your favorite place to relax in South Beach?
Rainer Becker: Actually the art deco district fascinates me – l am fascinated by architecture and the whole beach area is such a fantastic showcase for that whole era.