An Exclusive Interview with Chef Pawl Kazanowski, Executive Chef of Zuma Middle East and Turkey.

Pawel Kazanowski began his culinary journey at a young age. His mother was a restaurant manager at a traditional Polish restaurant and he spent most of his days always around the kitchen.

As for how he managed to get his start at Zuma, it all began 14 years ago when he was working at a restaurant in London and was getting the late train home after a long shift.

He went, fell in love, and is still now achieving great things for Zuma, more so in the Middle East and Turkey.

Talk us through your daily routine, the first 30 minutes of the day?

As soon as I arrive at the restaurant, I greet the team and ensure they are set to start the day. Then, I move on to enjoying a quick coffee with my management team while assessing the previous day’s performance and preparing the strategy for the new day. I then take some time to unclog my inbox and connect with my regional chefs to receive updates and provide support where needed and catch up with suppliers. Once all that is taken care of, I return to the kitchen, where I spend most of my time.

Can you talk us through your career history and your love for food?

After graduating from my studies in Poland, I moved to the UK where I kicked off my career in the industry, taking a number of junior kitchen roles and working under experienced Japanese chefs in traditional sushi restaurants. One of my early career highlights was a role at famous sushi Restaurant Yoshino located in the heart of London, and Mju Restaurant in Knightsbridge, where I was in charge of running the Japanese section of the kitchen as well as picking up French techniques from Executive Chef Tom Thomsen. I later joined the Zuma family in 2006, starting in the London venue for two years, where I could utilize all the skills gained across my culinary adventure and develop them further. In 2009, I arrived in the UAE in the newly opened Dubai restaurant, standing in line with the Executive Chef and responsible for running all operations. In 2014, I moved on to support the opening of Zuma Abu Dhabi, where I lead a team of 50 as a Head Chef and helped establish the business in the initial phases. In 2015, I returned to London taking a role of Group Development Chef and was involved in the expansion of Zuma across the world, including restaurants in Las Vegas, Rome or New York. In 2016, I moved back to Dubai, to lead the region as Executive Chef for Middle East and Turkey.

What initially inspired you to enter the hospitality realm?

Food has always been my passion, especially as my mother was a chef. Whenever I think back to my early years, I’m instantly transported to the scents and flavours of my kitchen when my mother was cooking. Her passion has definitely influenced me to explore the culinary and hospitality industry and encouraged me to further discover my love for food and cooking.

Zuma Restaurant

What eventually bought you to Dubai, Middle East?

I see Dubai as a culinary capital in the making, and there was no better market to explore limitless culinary creativity than the UAE at that time. Upon being presented an opportunity to join Zuma Dubai, I only found it fit to explore the region and its unique flavours, as well as pick up new techniques while perfecting my craft.

In your opinion what are the hero dishes to must try at Zuma?

Zuma offers a modern menu, a curation of a variety of dishes from the main kitchen, sushi counter and robata grill. All the dishes hold a special place in my heart, so it becomes challenging to choose one or two as hero dishes. Each speaks a different story and has a distinctive process in the kitchen that I thoroughly enjoy. I would definitely recommend trying the signature dishes though as they are as close as you will get to ‘hero’.

What is the inspiration behind the restaurant and why do you think Zuma has maintained continued success in Dubai for such a large span of time?

Zuma is inspired by a traditional Japanese Izakaya, which typically hosts a casual environment for after-work food and drinks. An Izakaya often has multiple different types of seating areas from low tables, tatami mats to bar seats. Zuma is a sophisticated interpretation of this concept and the design encourages a flow of energy throughout each zone, providing intimate spaces that align with its sophisticated design. In a highly competitive market such as Dubai, the brand’s consistency allows us to stay ahead of the curve. Rainer Becker, our creator and co-founder, always says, you are only as good as the last meal you serve. We strive to elevate our offering to ensure that we can move from good to great, in order to continue to deliver a dynamic dining experience to all our guests, an energetic atmosphere where you can have fun and enjoy delicious food with your guests. Our team plays a crucial role in maintaining and elevating the brand DNA. Upon joining, all team members undergo an extensive training program, where they spend time in various roles and travel to different restaurants in order to learn the business from the ground up but most importantly absorb the culture of the business.

What sets the F&B industry in Dubai apart from the rest of the world?

Dubai is a melting pot for a diverse range of culinary offerings, with some of the biggest names in the F&B scene, making Dubai one of the fastest-growing F&B markets. In particular, the international F&B brands continue to attract Dubai residents and visitors all year round.


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What are the hurdles you have experienced throughout your career?

Being non-Japanese, it was challenging at first to prove to my team that I was worthy of their time and attention. Thankfully, it was a very welcoming environment where I was able to learn the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine, with skills that have laid the foundation for my successful career.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, what have been the milestones?

Since joining Zuma Dubai, I have witnessed and been part of so many journeys, whether that’s my team or customers – it’s amazing to see. It’s a privilege to work in a restaurant that is so highly awarded – it’s not why we do this job but it’s a fantastic pat on the back to everyone on the team.

Finally, what are the future plans for Zuma, Dubai?

The team is very proud of the tremendous organic growth and success that the brand has achieved throughout the past 20 years. Our main goal is to constantly strive to be better, challenge our own standards, be innovative, and continue to introduce new experiences to our guests. This ethos has been at the core of every decision we’ve made within the restaurant, whether it is at Zuma Dubai or any other venue, and our guest experience remains our main priority.

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Images: Supplied