D: Are you as surprised as we are that you landed at NoMI?
AZ: This is a job that I had never even thought about. It came from left field. I saw myself running another independent of some kind or another.
D: We know Christophe David is the executive chef at NoMI. What’s your position and when did you start?
AZ: Two and a half weeks ago. I’m the chef de cuisine.
D: There are so many titles these days. What exactly is the hierarchy of the kitchen?
AZ: There’s the hotel and there’s NoMI. Chef David is executive chef of the hotel and therefore executive chef of everything including NoMI. Underneath him is the executive sous-chef, Christian Ragano. And then me [chef de cuisine]. I’m in charge of NoMI itself. If you come in and eat at NoMI, that’s my responsibility.
D: How much culinary freedom do you have?
AZ: Chef David has ideas of what he wants to see on the menu and ideas of how he wants the food to taste and how he wants the food to look. He doesn’t just hand me a menu and say, “Just go do this.” Getting each dish on the plate is more collaborative than that. It’s going to be a little while before I personally feel comfortable in my interpretation of his style.
D: How do you feel about that?
AZ: I want to slide into this position without breaking the elegant, graceful dining experience for anybody. I want to learn from the chef and also contribute my own ideas. But we are not in any rush here. Every day we want the guests to get the best possible food and the best possible service. That’s the only thing that’s important.
D: What has impressed you the most?
AZ: The quality of the product we can get in. I can get nearly any ingredient that I’ve ever wanted. The quality of the fish is amazing, whether from Hawaii or from FedEx from the best fish companies in New York or Maine.
D: Sounds like a Dear Santa letter that comes true.
AZ: So far.