Since taking over as executive chef at Chicago’s Sepia, Andrew Zimmerman has racked up the accolades. Arguably the biggest honor has been a one-star rating in the Michelin Guide for the past three years. Zimmerman is a master at using classic technique to elevate the mainly local and organic ingredients on his American menu. We asked him how he balances a demanding job and a growing family.
What’s an average day for you like?
I get up at about 7, when my two-year-old daughter Zola wakes me up. Then we make a pot of tea and have breakfast. I try to spend a couple of hours in the morning reading books to my daughter and playing with her. I’m usually at work by 10:30 or 11, and I get home at about midnght.
Sounds like quite the grind. Are you ever able to take off in the middle of the day?
No, there is no time. A guy came here from France to do a dinner in our private space next door, and he arrived at 9, we worked on some of the dishes for this dinner that we were doing together, and at 11:30 he said “Okay, I’m going to have lunch.” He came back around 4 and asked, “So, did you get a chance to go home or take off between lunch and dinner?” And we’re in the same line of work, right? I’m not unusual for somebody [an American] in my job.
We’re going to have another child soon, so I’m going to have to figure out ways to truncate my schedule at least a little.
What’s an ideal way for you to spend a day off?
It would be nice if we could do fun things with my daughter. She likes going to the Garfield Park Conservatory, walking around and looking at plants. We might try to fit in some shopping, because there’s really no time to do that except on my days off. We’ll go pick up some groceries for me to make dinner. Maybe we can sneak in another fun activity for Zola, because we have to work around her nap schedule. Then I’d make dinner and we’d stay home. I know that doesn’t sound very glamorous.
What’s for dinner with a two-year-old?
We’re trying to encourage her to eat what we eat. But right around now she’s kind of particular. So we make something for her and then something for ourselves. I cook a lot of Indian food at home; a staple is chicken tikka masala. We love a roasted chicken with a bread salad. And my wife Lindsey is a reformed vegetarian, so I make vegetarian chili a lot.
You have quite the stash of condiments in there.
I’d like to think that a lot of chefs’ refrigerators are like this, but it’s always full of things that you can’t make anything out of. There’s always one to three kinds of miso or fermented chili paste, several kinds of cheeses, some pickled thing. There are always too many condiments, because chefs will say “I want Dijon mustard for this, or fermented Chinese black beans for that.” And there’s always rendered duck fat or pork fat. My wife makes fun of me because at one time I had three different containers of lard in the refrigerator.
You seem pretty disciplined. Any food vices?
I really like Fritos on chili, which is pretty trashy. And there’s a company in Wisconsin that makes a spreadable Cheddar. I’ve got to admit that I like that stuff on Triscuits.