Zuma's Chef Bjoern Weissgerber Brings German Precision to Miami

When we first met Bjoern Weissgerber, executive chef at Zuma Miami, he wasn't what we expected. The young, charismatic German with Swedish roots is more reminiscent of a hip, energetic artist than a top toque at one of Miami's finest Japanese restaurants. Then again, his visually stunning plates are truly works of art, and his German precision is apparent in every dish. As for the Swedish roots: Although he might at first seem a reserved Scandinavian, anyone who has spent time in his kitchen will tell you he does not hold back.

Weissgerber began his culinary career in his native Germany and then continued to hone his expertise at Arzak and El Bulli, both Michelin three-star restaurants in Spain known for their unique and innovative approach to Spanish cuisine. From there, he moved to guest chef posts at another three-star establishment, French Laundry in California, and then headed back to Europe to lead Roka, Zuma's sister concept, in London. It's at Roka where his passion for Japanese food was developed, and as he transitioned to be part of the opening of Zuma London, he helped make it one of the most recognized and respected restaurants in London and abroad. Now in Miami, Weissgerber brings to Zuma a dynamic energy and a culture promoting food integrity and pride among his staff.

We sat with Weissgerber last week to learn a bit more about his background, his recent move to South Florida, and his vision for Zuma Miami.

New Times: You seem to have a passion for Japanese cuisine. How did this start?

: I have a passion for cooking in general, for design and beautiful things. The senses have to be involved. Passion of food is still the same -- whether it's American, Spanish, or Japanese.

I learned that Japanese children know more about the seasons and what' s in season than other kids. I appreciate that and, like them, respect the seasons and pride myself in using the best products available.

Are you the first chef in your family?

No, I come from a family of chefs. I have uncles who are bakers and pastry chefs, and my family has a restaurant in Germany. I can call them, and when I see them, we are all sharing ideas. It's great.

Did you go to culinary school?

Yes. I went to culinary school in Munich. But in Europe, it is very common with apprenticeships, so a lot of what influences my cooking today I learned from my various positions in kitchens around the world.

You spent some time working with El Bulli's Ferran Adrià, who is viewed by some as the king of molecular gastronomy. Has that had any impact on how you cook today?

It was an unforgettable experience -- El Bulli, I mean. But it is also what brought me to where I am today. What [Adrià] does is amazing, but I closed the door to molecular gastronomy and realized that I am more of a "nature boy"... must be my Nordic roots. It's the realization that the product itself is beautiful and you don't have to change it that drives me. If a guest orders a piece of fish, they will see it and recognize it as the best piece of fish there is.

You are surrounded by fresh and healthful food all day. Do you have any junk-food cravings?

I love hamburgers.

How would you describe yourself to someone who has not met you?

I am a perfectionist, and as I get older, I find myself becoming more and more like a Taurus. I am driven to want it to be perfect. But I also know that you can't try too hard. You don't want to make it too special because then you take away from what it truly is.

How are you adapting to Miami?

I love the diversity in Miami -- it's pretty cool. The Latin atmosphere in an American business world is a good mix. And everyone seems to be having fun, which I like.

Tune in tomorrow when we find out about Chef Weissgerber's role as Zuma's executive chef.

Epic Hotel
270 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

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Christina Staalstrom