2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Will Zuchman of Alma de Cuba

2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Will Zuchman of Alma de Cuba
February 2013

Will Zuchman may have been born and raised in Southwest Philly, but it’s his international travels that shaped him as a chef. Before stamping his passport in 15 countries and working in more than 15 kitchens, Zuchman made his industry debut at 15 as a dishwasher. He soon joined Starr Restaurants, cooking at The Continental, Bleu Angel, and Tangerine before joining Douglas Rodriguez’s opening team at Alma de Cuba in 2001.

Working at Alma five days a week, Zuchman spent his days off in New York City, splitting time between kitchens at Pipa and Chicama. And after helping Rising Star Chef Jose Garces open El Vez, he left Philadelphia for a round of travel. Zuchman cooked next at Lacroix and Morimoto under Chef Masaharu Morimoto, whom he helped with an “Iron Chef America” battle against Mario Batali. The experience drew Zuchman to New York City full-time and a job at Batali’s Esca.

Zuchman readied his passport again for travel through the Caribbean and Central and South America before returning to Philly to stage under Chef Marc Vetri. Vetri, in turn, arranged for Zuchman to work at Ol-Fa in Bergamo, Italy with Chef Andrea Forcella.

Back home, Zuchman opened La Boheme and then teamed up again with Garces to open Tinto in 2008 as chef de cuisine—before which he spent a month in Basque country. At last returning to Starr, Zuchman worked at Parc, Barclay Prime, and Buddakan before taking over Rodriguez’s kitchen in 2012 as executive chef of Alma de Cuba, where his passion for wanderlust and Latin cooking shines through in every dish.

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Interview with 2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Will Zuchman

Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?

Will Zuchman: I worked as a dishwasher. One of the first influential people [in my craeer] was Douglas Rodriguez. I helped him open Alma de Cuba. After, I started to commit to New York City—I went on my way but always stayed in touch.

CH: Did you go to culinary school?

WZ: No culinary school. I got the bulk of my foundation at Lacroix. I worked for Vetri for free, and for Batali in New York City. I learned more traveling than I did in the kitchen, experiencing food abroad.

CH: How do you go about creating a dish?

WZ: I usually think about each component and ingredient, how they work together, the technique and pickup for restaurant purposes. You have to make it so you can pick it up.

CH: What’s the toughest challenge you have had to overcome?

WZ: Trying to do the food I want to do for the volume. We do everything from scratch.

CH: Have you taken any steps to become a sustainable restaurant? What are those steps?

WZ: We have instituted a company-wide recycling and composting initiative. We have our grease picked up and refined. We practice a total utilization of product approach. We support local farms and businesses whenever possible.

CH: What does success mean to you?

WZ: Customers leaving happy. It's fulfilling.

CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?

WZ: I would like to find myself in a place where I don't have to answer to anyone. I can be as creative as I want to be. I'm creative, I like to draw, and go to the market.