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Andrew Zimmerman on Chicago's Sepia

Andrew Zimmerman on Chicago's Sepia

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We talk to the chef about his restaurant, having an indefinable cuisine, and Chicago

Andrew Zimmerman's Sepia does not fit easily into any particular category for a restaurant. As he descibes it, "We are a contemporary American restaurant. Sort of globally informed we like to say." But one thing that is certain is that diners are loving what he's doing — he's recently been nominated again for a James Beard Award.

We caught up with Zimmerman to discuss the restaurant and what drives his cuisine. He noted that "A lot of my inspiration comes from taking things that have already existed on some level and then applying them in my own way. [For example] curried granola with scalllops and parsnip or we like to do a lot of things with blood pudding... I do look at myself as the quintessential melting pot kind of chef."

We also discussed where Sepia fits into Chicago's robust dining scene. Zimmerman believes that the restaurant is in many ways a reflection of the type of diners that inhabit the city. "To a cetain level, Chicagoans don't like a lot of pomp and circumstance in their dining," he says. "There are a few notable exceptions of course... But we try to give the same kind of quality in a setting that is more casual and approachable and fun."

For more, watch the video above and if you're intrigued, head to Sepia!


Since taking the culinary lead at Sepia in 2009, Chef Andrew Zimmerman has garnered . His creative direction in the kitchen has earned the Chicago restaurant a . When not working, he can be found traveling with his family – and finding .

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Hamachi Crudo with Grapefruit, Coconut, Red Curry Rice and Green Chili

8 oz Sashimi Grade Hamachi (aka Yellowtail), diced into ½” cubes

¼ cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced into ¼ “ cubes

¼ cup young coconut flesh cut into ¼ “ pieces

¼ cup mango cut into ¼” pieces

¼ cup avocado, cut into ¼ “ pieces

¼ cup grapefruit supremes, cut into ¼ “ pieces

¼ cup shredded coconut toasted in a 350 degree oven until light brown

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

¼ cup chopped fresh Thai basil

¼ cup fried shallots (recipe below)

¼ cup Red Curry Fried Rice (recipe Below)

½ cup Sweet and Sour Green Chili Dressing (recipe Below)

Combine everything up to the dressing in a bowl. Add dressing to taste and toss as you would a salad. Season with a touch of salt if needed and serve in four bowls.

Sweet and Sour Green Chili Dressing:

2 medium cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium shallot, peeled and minced

1.5 tbsp finely minced ginger

3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

3-4 tbsp palm sugar (or light brown sugar)

¼ cup plus one Tbsp (if you like) white vinegar

Heat a small sauce pan with 2 T oil and add all chopped veg, cook 5 min. Add palm sugar and allow to caramelize for another 5 min. Add fish sauce and white vinegar and let cool.

2 cups very thinly sliced shallots

Heat the oil up to 275 degrees on a deep fry thermometer. Add the shallots and cook until lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Strain out the shallots and increase the temperature of the oil to 350. Add the shallots and fry about another 3-5 seconds to crisp them and finish the browning. Immediately drain the shallots and spread them out on a paper towel to stop the cooking. Save the oil. It is delicious and can be used to sauté or build a vinaigrette.

2 tbsp Thai red curry paste

First thing to do is spread the cooked rice out on a cookie sheet and let it air dry in the refrigerator overnight. Then rub the curry paste all over the rice and put it back on the cookie sheet overnight. The next day heat the oil to 350 degrees on a deep fry thermometer and fry the rice in small batches about 2-3 minutes or until slightly puffed and golden and crispy. Strain out the rice and drain it on paper towel. Season with salt. Continue with the remaining rice. It is a good idea to do very small batches at a time to make sure it is cooking evenly and safely. It will spit and sputter so a splatter guard is a good idea. It sounds like a bunch of trouble but it does come out delicious.

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Andrew Zimmerman brings roasted duck to THE Dish

Long before award-winning chef Andrew Zimmerman graduated at the top of his class in culinary school, he dreamed of becoming a rockstar. But he put down his guitar and picked up a set of kitchen knives.

In 2009, he landed the top spot in the kitchen of Sepia in Chicago, where he remains as executive chef. He's been nominated for Best Chef: Great Lakes by the James Beard Foundation multiple times and StarChefs chose him as a 2011 rising star chef.

Now, Zimmerman is offering a few of his signature recipes. Here's how to make roasted duck, red kuri squash, fingerling potatoes, caramelized brussels sprouts, celery root and apple puree, and to drink, Cat's Pajamas!

Roast Duck "Apicius"

1 whole pekin duck about 5 lbs, all excess fat removed, neck and 1st joint of the wings set aside for duck

Juice and zest of 4 oranges

2 tbsp crushed fennel seed

2 tbsp crushed coriander seed

Pre heat the oven to 425 F.

Combine everything except the whole duck, fennel and coriander seed in a pot and reduce to a glaze.(back of spoon coated. check!) Strain. Adjust seasoning with sugar or soy as needed and add fennel and coriander. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (large enough to submerge the whole duck). Put the duck in the pot and simmer for 10 minutes to render some of the fat. Remove the duck and allow it to cool. Season the duck with salt and pepper and pull the neck skin under the duck, securing it with a pick. Put the duck on a roasting rack with the breast side up and roast at 425 for 15 minutes. Then lower the temp to 325 and roast an additional 30 minutes. Remove the duck from the oven, carefully drain off excess fat from the pan and return the duck to the pan breast side down. Roast the duck another 30 minutes. Again remove the duck from the oven and drain any excess fat from the pan. Flip the duck breast side up again and brush the spice glaze over the breast and legs. Return the duck to the oven and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes (watching the glaze. if it is starting to get too dark remove from the oven and turn the oven down to 250. if the glaze isn't staying on the duck well brush on a little more).

The internal temperature of the duck should reach 165 F. Remove the duck from the oven and let it rest at least 10 minutes before carving. Carve the leg and thigh off each side and separate them, carve the breasts off and divide each breast in half. Serve.

Reserved neck and wings from the duck

8 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)

Chop the wings into about three pieces. Do the same with the neck. Coat the bottom of a medium sauce pan with a bit of oil or duck fat. Add the duck neck and wing pieces to the pan and brown them very well. Drain off excess fat and add one cup of the chicken stock. Allow the stock to cook down until it reglazes the bottom of the pan and then browns. Then add another cup of stock and repeat the procedure. Then add one more cup of stock and repeat again. Then add the onion, thyme and the remaining stock. Simmer the stock until it reduces by at least half. Strain the stock and return it to the pan and reduce by about half again and the butter a bit at a time whisking it in. Season with the salt and pepper. Keep warm until serving.

Duck Fat Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

1.5-2 lbs fingerling potatoes

one head garlic, top cut off

rendered duck fat as needed

1 tsp each minced fresh thyme and rosemary

In a pot large enough to hold everything snugly, melt the duck fat and combine the rest of the ingredients, making sure the potatoes are submerged in the duck fat. Warm the duck fat to about 180 degrees and slowly cook the potatoes until they are tender (about 1 hour).

Pre heat the oven to 350 F

Cool the potatoes and remove them from the duck fat. Strain the duck fat and reserve it. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. In a saute pan or heavy roasting pan large enough to hold the potatoes all in one layer, heat about two tbsp of the reserved duck fat. Arrange the potatoes in the pan cut side down. Cook on the stovetop for about two or three minutes and then put the potatoes in the oven for about 10 minutes or until heated through and a nice golden crust has formed on the cut side. Remove the potatoes from the pan and season them with coarse salt, fresh pepper and a tsp each minced fresh thyme and rosemary and one tbsp chopped parsley.

Black Pepper-Maple Red Kuri Squash

1 tbsp lightly chopped thyme leaves

1 tbsp cracked black peppercorns

Cut the top and bottom off the squash and then using a knife remove the outside of the squash. Cut the squash in half and then remove the seeds. Cut the squash into even crescent pieces about ¼-½ thick. Heat the oil in a pan large enough to hold the squash in a single layer. Lightly brown the squash on both sides on medium heat until the squash is nearly tender. Add the syrup, pepper, thyme and butter and reduce it all to finish the cooking and reduce the syrup to a glaze.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, Chestnuts

2.5 lbs brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise

2.5 ounces slab bacon cut in to lardons about ¼ inch on a side and ¾ inch long

2 cups roasted and peeled chestnuts or one jar roasted chestnuts

salt and fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Heat a large sauté pan or heavy roasting pan and add the vegetable oil to it along with the lardons of bacon. Cook the bacon until crisp tender and then drain it reserving the bacon fat. Return the bacon fat to the pan and arrange the Brussels sprouts cut side down in the pan in a single layer. Cook on the top of the stove about 5 minutes or until the cut side of the Brussels sprouts has a good light golden sear started. Slip the sprouts into the oven and roast for about 8 minutes and then pull them out and give them a stir. Return them to the oven and roast about 6 minutes more or until they are just about tender but retaining a bit of bite. Add the chestnuts and bacon back to the pan along with the butter, stir together and warm everything through. Season with the salt and the black pepper.

Celery Root and Apple Puree

2-2.5 lbs celery root, peeled and cut in small dice

3 apples (fuji, gala, granny smith), peeled, cored and cut in small dice

In a medium pot, melt the butter and add the celery root and apples. Season with a pinch of the salt and cook over low to medium heat, covered, until the celery root is very tender (about 45 minutes to an hour). Warm the cream in a small pot.

Drain any excess liquid from the celery root and apples and reserve it. Puree the celery root and apples in a food processor or blender adding the cream and any of the reserved cooking liquid if needed to achieve a smooth rather thick puree, add the remaining salt and a bit of ground white pepper to taste.

Cat's Pajamas

1 dash Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters

Add all ingredients into mixing glass, add ice, stir. Strain into coupe glass or over large rock in rocks glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Interview with Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia - Chicago IL

Jessica Dukes: You began your career as a musician. What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Andrew Zimmerman: I cooked because I needed to make money. My first job in a kitchen was as a dishwasher. I liked to eat, and I liked eating interesting things. I was cooking at home although that wasn’t at all related to any idea of cooking in a professional kitchen. I started cooking Thai at home because I’d eaten it and I enjoyed it, and I started getting the message that I had a real interest in cooking. My father took me to sushi restaurants before they were ubiquitous, Indian restaurants, Thai restaurants when I was really young. I was very lucky in that way.

JD: Who are your mentors?
AZ: Renato Sommelia was the first and most important. For me [working with him] was a litmus test as to whether or not I wanted to do this really professionally. The single most important thing I learned was to trust my instincts on cooking. Renato had a good way of getting what he wanted: he told me that he wanted something, and that he was sure I knew how to do it, and then he’d go home and watch soccer! Like a chocolate truffle cake. “I want you to make a chocolate truffle cake.” It didn’t matter that I had never made a chocolate truffle cake before, that I had no idea how to make one, and there was no Internet in its current form. But I had to do it. Or the first time I roasted a whole fish—Branzino. I’d never seen one or cooked one before, even though that sounds silly now, and I remember I opened the oven door and I asked Renato, “Can you check this for me?” He looked at me and said, “You know perfectly well if it’s cooked or not.” And I did, I just had to have the confidence to know that I did. His style made me a much better cook a lot more quickly.

JD: Did you have any other mentors over the course of your career?
AZ: Terry Alexander. His work ethic is great. For somebody that’s in his position, there isn’t any job that’s too small. I’ve seen him wash dishes and clean out the sewer. I think a lot of chefs would say that’s beneath them, and he would argue that of course he has to do that, and I agree … I got a much more generous outlook on hospitality and the diner’s experience from Terry.

JD: Do you think chefs are too inflexible?
AZ: I think that chefs sometimes get caught up in the idea that they’re creative geniuses, so if a guest wants to make a change to an item, wants something omitted or wants to add something, or alter something, it’s like, “oh no, you must be crazy!” But at the end of the day they’re eating it and they're the ones paying for it. [Terry] taught me about making sure that the guest is taken care of.

JD: You also mentioned Christophe David as a mentor.
AZ: From him, I started to learn how to let my cooks cook for me, to do their job because that’s what [Christophe] does. I’d go into his office and he’d say, “I’d like a turbot with some carrots … and pomelo.” “What? Ok, sure, chef, naturally.” I’d bring it back, and he’d make some comments, and then I’d bring it back again and eventually it would get on the menu.

JD: How did you like this process?
AZ: I think that where Renato was trying to bring it out of me, Christophe just expected that it was there. I remember that another chef that was working at [NoMi] at the time told me that when he started, they showed him where the oven was and that was it. I had to figure out what I was doing, and again, that really helped me. It was also a large corporate environment, you know it’s the Hyatt, and in my mind Christophe was a real executive chef.

JD: What do you mean by that?
AZ: People call me an executive chef or they ask me if I’m the executive chef at Sepia and I say, “You can call me that if you want to but really I’m just a chef.” [Laughs] You know an executive chef is someone who has an office and spends a lot of time there, who is sitting behind a pile of budget reports. We do budget reports to at Sepia but nothing on the scale of a hotel.

JD: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
AZ: I get asked this question all the time, and I know why, it’s important. Food should be good. It’s important that from beginning to end, you’ve done as much as you can. That differentiates a lot of restaurants in Chicago from other cities. We shop at the same farmers’ markets, get our meat from the same farmers at the Green Market, cook the same contemporary American, European-influenced food. What makes each restaurant different is how we’ve personally translated that. Paul Virant makes sauerkraut, and if I make sauerkraut it’s going to taste different, even though we’re using the same ingredients and maybe sourced them at the same place.

JD: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?
AZ: Well that depends on whether they’re just starting off as a cook or if they’re a sous chef and they’re about to take on more responsibility. For the sous chef, one of best pieces of advice I’d have, aside from all the obvious, is to get the best product you can afford, respect it, do your best presentation, and make the carrot taste like a carrot.

Also, I think it’s really important to recognize that the people you hire for your kitchen are the custodians of your cuisine. Be selective about the people you choose to work with and surround yourself with professionally and personally. Treat them with respect and mentor them, all so they’re personally invested with food that’s going out. I learned over the years to try to be better about letting people do their jobs. You need to show trust, because then there’s a better chance that they’ll do it properly.

JD: Do you have any protégées?
AZ: I wouldn’t say that I have protégées—maybe in five or 10 years. But I’ve worked with some really good people, people who will do well, and I hope I’ve given them the tools. Recently Rob Leavitt opened a butcher shop. It’d really be cool if it comes back around. Five or six years ago, we were lamenting the death of the neighborhood butcher: gutsy risk takers who like the butcher angle are bringing it back. Good for them.

Jamaican Chicken Soup Listed among Top 10 Easy Soup Recipes Favored by Michelin-Starred Chefs

Business Insider magazine asked several Michelin-starred chefs to name their favorite winter soup recipes, and Chef Gerald Addison of the recently opened Washington DC restaurant Bammy’s said he enjoys making the “really hearty and really spicy” Jamaican Chicken Soup in the winter. He told Business Insider that he believes this soup is the best of all the chicken soups he has tried. Addison recommended using chicken feet or wings in the soup, together with chicken stock, pumpkin, and butternut squash. Jamaican Chicken Soup often includes yams, rings of corn-on-the-cob, and chayote – “tons of vegetables” – he added.

The other top chefs shared these favorite easy soup recipes.

Curtis Stone of the restaurant Maude and Gwen in Los Angeles favors a Roasted Beet Soup, which is creamier than a traditional borscht. He roasts the beets with onions and garlic, purees it with some vegetable or mushroom stock, and finishes it with yogurt and chives.

Andrew Zimmerman, the executive chef of Sepia in Chicago, also likes to make a Roasted Beet Soup. His version builds on a potato-leek soup concept, but rather than use potatoes, roasted beets are added. The soup gets “sweet and earthy” from the beets, he said, and the leeks give it some “backbone and structure.” He recommends serving the soup with toasted country bread with melted cheese.

Zimmerman also enjoys making a pumpkin and coconut soup with Thai red curry. The ingredients include a pumpkin, kabocha, or butternut squash, garlic, ginger, coconut milk, and Thai red curry past. This is a creamy and rich soup with just the right amount of spiciness. He also adds spicy cashews, crushed cashews or chili roasted peanuts.

Another Zimmerman favorite is White Bean Soup, which includes white beans, carrots, thyme, rosemary, and roasted chestnuts. He also adds pancetta and roasted chestnuts and serves it with toasted country bread rubbed with garlic and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.

Executive chef Mazen Mustafa of Fellow in Los Angeles makes a squash soup with red kuri squash. This squash has a delicate flavor, he said, and the addition of toasted pumpkin seeds provide an excellent texture. The soup is made with a peeled, deseeded, and diced red kuri squash, garlic, ginger, and a Honeycrisp apple. Any winter squash can substitute for the red kuri if it is not available, with butternut squash a good choice. The soup also includes vegetable stock and red miso. It is served with a topping of toasted pumpkin seeds.

Kevin Meehan of Kali Restaurant in Los Angeles makes a Tahitian Squash Soup when temperatures drop in winter. It is made with sage, thyme, and rosemary, onions, and garlic. White wine is added, then the squash, cream and milk. Nutmeg is added to taste before serving.

For the simplest of winter soups, Val Cantu, head chef at Californios in San Francisco recommends chicken stock. He takes a whole chicken, cuts it up so it cooks completely, and covers it with filtered water. After skimming off the “impurities,” he just adds salt so he can use the stock in other recipes. He often uses the stock in place of water to cook rice, and he also enjoys drinking the stock on its own. “I love it, it feels like a warm sweater,” he told Business Insider.

Daniel Boulud of Le Cirque has been making his favorite curried cauliflower and apple soup since 1989. This soup is made of chicken stock, onions, Madras curry powder, saffron, sliced apples, cauliflower, and cream. It is topped with minced chives and raw apple slices when served.

Jean-Philippe Blondet, executive chef of Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London,believes that his personal favorite, Chestnut Velouté, is the “king of soups.” It is a delicate, creamy and warming soup that is made by cooking chestnuts in olive oil and butter, adding garlic and dry fennel, and covering the chestnuts with brandy after they are finished roasting in the oven. A sauce made with roux and a light stock is added, and he recommends using one leg of a guinea fowl as well. It is served with roasted chestnuts, French parsley, and crème fraîche.

Beverly Kim of Parachute in Chicago, enjoys making the spicy Korean beef soup called Yukgaejang. This comforting soup is made with shredded beef brisket and lots of vegetables, including big pieces of scallion. She finishes the soup with an egg and described it to Business Insider as “kind of spicy, super heart-warming, and very soul-satisfying.”

The First Day I Got My Michelin Stars: Sepia’s Andrew Zimmerman

The executive chef dishes what it was like when he got the call.

Like any blossoming musician who wants to make it big in the Big Apple, Andrew Zimmerman got his start behind the line by working in restaurants to pay the bills. But when his love of cooking began to overshadow his musical love affair, he took a leap of faith and enrolled in culinary school. In 2000, Zimmerman graduated first in his class at Manhattan’s French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center).

Three years later, Zimmerman moved to Chicago where he expanded his repertoire, cooking at noteworthy restaurants like MOD, Del Toro and NoMI at the Park Hyatt. In 2008, Zimmerman was introduced to Sepia owner Emmanuel Nony and one year later was offered the role of executive chef.

Sepia earned its first Michelin star in 2011 and has retained one ever since. Earlier this year, the duo expanded their culinary vision with the opening of Proxi, where Zimmerman showcases new techniques and flavor profiles of global street food.

Here, Zimmerman dishes what it was like when he got the call.

What was your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide?
My first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide was about 20 years ago when a chef I was working for handed me "Simply French," a book by Patricia Wells and Joël Robuchon. I started reading about him and what it was to have a star in the Guide.

How much influence/inspiration does the MICHELIN Guide have on your career?

It sets a level of excellence and execution for restaurants to strive for, and provides me with a resource to learn about who is the best in the world and what they are thinking and cooking.

You received your first star in the inaugural Chicago MICHELIN Guide in 2011—how did did you celebrate?
I received the call as I was on the way to the dentist . . . not the way most people celebrate their first star, I imagine. Later on we had some Champagne at the restaurant. But I think that what really happened was that we all took a collective deep breath and realized that we had to get right back to work to meet—and hopefully exceed—the new expectations that our guests would have because we had been awarded a star.

Did you change the direction of your restaurant when you received a star?
When we were awarded our first star we took it as a challenge and an opportunity to raise the bar at the restaurant in some small ways. We added a few amenities and a nightly tasting menu and we reassessed the sequence of service and the service standards. That said, we haven’t pursued an additional star. We feel that the changes we would have to make to achieve another star would change the fundamental character of the restaurant in a way that might alienate our core following. We are happy to work at being a really great one star restaurant.

What advice do you have for young chefs aiming for Michelin stars?

My advice to young chefs aiming for Michelin stars is . . . don't. Don't make it the real focus of your cooking. If you go to work every day and cook the best, most honest food you can—made with care and respect—then you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror. If you only cook to receive accolades like Michelin stars, you will miss the most important part of your job: making delicious food for your guests. If you work very hard at making things that are delicious everything else will fall into place.

Michelin Star Recipe Series: Sepia’s Roasted white asparagus, morel mushrooms, soft boiled egg

With the Corona virus keeping everyone home and turning us all into chefs, it is now time to take our culinary skills to a Michelin star level.

We present to you, recipes from some of Chicago’s finest Michelin starred restaurants including the world’s first ever Michelin starred brewpub, Band of Bohemia, best known for their ever-changing menu of craft beers to pair with their seasonal menu. Two-Michelin starred Acadia, celebrated for their mouth-watering burgers and fine-dining tasting menus. Sepia, famous for executive chef, Andrew Zimmerman’s inventive American cuisine. Unrivalled Italian dining, Spiaggia, renowned for their exquisite handmade pastas and the split-level restaurant, Smyth + the Loyalist, offering fine-dining menus upstairs in Smyth and comforting bar food downstairs at The Loyalist.

Sepia – Roasted white asparagus, morel mushrooms, soft boiled egg

100ml extra virgin olive oil

16 pc large white asparagus, peeled about 10cm long

A bit of fresh lemon juice

130 g cleaned morel mushrooms, cut in half

200 ml dark chicken stock

A bit of chopped fresh parsley

4 peeled soft boiled eggs

Heat about 30-40 ml olive oil in a sauce pan and when quite hot add the mushrooms. Saute for a few minutes to soften and then add the shallots and thyme. Cook a further few minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the white wine and reduce the wine until nearly dry. Add the stock and simmer to reduce by about half. Add the parsley and stir in the butter.

In another saute pan, heat the remaining oil and when hot pan roast the white asparagus turning them to get a nice even light brown. Season with salt and pepper and perhaps a touch of lemon juice. Rewarm the soft cooked eggs for 30 seconds in hot water, divide the morels on four plates, top the mushrooms with the asparagus and then an egg. Some good bread would be welcome.

Rabbit hopping onto U.S. menus

On menus across the country, rabbit dishes are multiplying like — do I have to say it?

All manner of restaurants are embracing the bunny. Food & Wine restaurant editor Kate N. Krader heralded rabbit as "the great new sustainable meat" for 2013.

There are several reasons for this growing popularity. Rabbit meat is mild in flavor and lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, lamb, pork or chicken. It's a versatile protein, chefs like to work with it, and customer squeamishness (that is, the oh-my-God-you-killed-Thumper factor) has steadily declined over the years.

"There was a time when customers were afraid," says Matthew Accarrino, executive chef of SPQR restaurant in San Francisco, "but now it's become the other white meat. From a quality standpoint, everything I buy, I buy whole. A whole rabbit is just a few pounds it's not like buying a 200-pound pig to get a whole animal. That makes it very manageable for a chef and a home cook."

Watch the video: Chefs Choose Staub - Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia (August 2022).