"I’m strict and very clear about the standard I want. No shortcuts permitted."
Cinzia Pernici, who is from Italy, has an exceptionally good grounding in all things Zuma!
Having trained at the Accademia del Gusto in Arezzo, Italy, and then undergone a number of internships in her home country, Cinzia in 2010 headed for the United Kingdom where she was sous chef at Cibo! restaurant in Oxford. She moved on to Japan, where she cooked at La Bisboccia and at Tamura, two restaurants in Tokyo, before in 2015 heading back to the UK where she joined Zuma London as chef de partie.
After three years in London, Cinzia moved to Zuma Hong Kong, where she started as sous chef and was later promoted to executive sous chef. Her time in Hong Kong was eventful. In a three-year period she took part in three extensive Zuma pop-ups, each of several weeks at a time, in Kitzbuel, Austria, in Phuket, and at Ibiza, in Spain. Cinzia joined Zuma Bangkok in October 2022, as head chef.
How is Zuma food different from other Japanese dining establishments?
Zuma stems from Japanese tradition and of course retains a few dishes that are not unusual to be found in other Japanese dining restaurants, miso black cod, yakitori… to tell of a few. The real difference with other Japanese dining establishments is that Zuma didn’t stop there but embraced new ideas, grew, and developed its own unique flavours.
Every Zuma dish has its own distinctive character. They are unique and have very defined flavour. If you ate something in Zuma that you especially liked, it would be very difficult to find a similar taste somewhere else that will really satisfy you. Similar dishes maybe, yes, but really not the same taste.
Also the variety of food you can order is impressive… sushi, sashimi, tempura, robatayaki, dessert. Many restaurants just concentrate on one or maybe two areas, but not Zuma, we want to give guests the possibility to enjoy the full experience all at once in the same place. But variety does not mean less quality, everything is done to the highest standard and with the best ingredients and techniques.
What makes good 'Japanese' food ?
I personally come from Italian cuisine and, even if there are many differences, I always feel that Italian and Japanese cooking have a very similar important starting point. Respect for the original products. There is no need to cover the original flavours with so many others, the best thing we can do is find a way to make it stand out even more.
Of course this is not an easy feat, it needs time, knowledge and patience, in particular for people like me, working with a cuisine that is not the one you grew up in.
It is important to know and understand the reason why some food is usually prepared the way it is or paired with a certain kind of sauce. To be able to create a new but still authentic dish it is always important to keep in mind the traditional ones, not to copy them blindly, but to start from solid foundations.
What's the most challenging aspect of running your kitchen?
It’s probably to make sure that everything is done with the same consistency every day. Even if I’m not around, actually, in particular, exactly when I’m not around.
Achieving this is not easy, you constantly try to form and maintain a team that works with the same aim, to always deliver the best food to the guests. I want them to be proud of the amazing job they are doing!
I really believe that only by creating a kitchen environment where people help each other and enjoy working together can we achieve the best results.
I’m strict and very clear about the standard I want. No shortcuts permitted. But at the same time I want my team to trust, not to fear me. I often remind them, if they do make a mistake while trying to do their best, it happens, it’s part of a learning process, no need to hide it, we can find a solution together. The important thing is to do better next time. Well, of course, sometimes I need to gather all my patience, but…
What's the must try dish at Zuma Bangkok?
I’ve got so many in my mind that I don’t even know how to choose only one…
On the spot I would go for the seared toro nigiri with caviar and wafu, I’m a tuna lover and this dish basically melts in your mouth.
But while eating it I will probably dream about trying Wagyu tataki and, why not, Chilean seabass as well…
What's your advice for someone who's looking to become a chef at an international brand such as Zuma?
Mental attitude is the key.
Is not easy at the beginning to find your own space in a big international brand. But the people that work well and with passion will eventually do so, at least in Zuma
The ones with little experience may feel overwhelmed joining such a big team.
For the ones with quite enough experience on their shoulder it can be challenging as well, for when you enter a long established brand you need to be willing to question some of your habits and learn new ways.
The important part is to give yourself time to get used to things. At the beginning don’t question everything, even if you have experience, follow the way things are done. Work hard, learn more and become someone that can be trusted. At that point you will be able to become the one to bring new suggestions and ideas, and change things for the better.
Visit Cinzia Percnici and try her menu at Zuma Bangkok