PODCAST: To hear about the time Zimmerman got to play a guitar Kurt Cobain once played-and which legendary chef has a painting of himself in the kitchen-listen to the rest of the interview by clicking on the Podcast above.(00.47:04)
MN: Were you a food guy growing up?
AZ: When I was six, I’d pick the weirdest stuff on the menu: “Oh, snails? I’ll have that.” My first restaurant job was a horrifically foul restaurant on the Jersey shore called The Lobsterman. It was hot and unpleasant and people were rude. I found it amusing.
MN: Is it true you got tangled up with the Mob?
AZ: Whether they were connected was hard to say. But I was the chef at their restaurant, and they would say, “If you have any trouble with the police, let us know. We have some friends who could fix that.” Oh, OK. I’m going to run out the back and leave now. Permanently.
MN: Is your wife a tough critic at home?
AZ: Sometimes when I’m not trying to be impressive in the kitchen, she’ll say, “I don’t know if that’s the best risotto you’ve ever made.” Darling, I love you, but I wasn’t trying to make the best risotto ever; I was just trying to make us dinner.
MN: You’re a musician. What was the height of your rock success?
AZ: In 1989, my band, The Original Celebrated Curiously Strong Peppermints, represented the U.S. at a pop festival in Japan. We played for 10,000 people. I was 18 and got treated like I was in the Rolling Stones for a week.
MN: What’s your take on this small-plates trend?
AZ: Is it something people want, or is it something that we in the industry have created and told them they want? I don’t know. But it’s like saying, “Here’s a bunch of stuff: Put your own tasting menu together.” And that I really like, because I’m a food nerd.
Photograph: Audrey Cho