Mexican native Ivan Aguinaga specializes in Asian cuisine and has worked at Nobu restaurants in Saudi Arabi and the Bahamas.
Experience Zuzu just made its debut this summer, and last month welcomed a new chef with strong skills in the realm of Asian cuisine, Ivan Aguinaga.
Born in Mexico, the classically trained chef has spend the past two decades cooking around the world and holding important positions at internationally recognized Asian restaurants. He was most recently the chef at Nobu Bahamas and before that was the opening head chef of Nobu Hotel Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. He replaces Zuzu’s opening executive chef Bryan S. Emperor.
While it may seem sad to leave the Bahamas to start a new job working in Detroit just as the winter starts, Auginaga says he’s committed to his new town and is looking forward to cooking at Experience Zuzu, which is a dazzling, design-forward intimate restaurant in downtown Detroit.
“I was very interested in joining this team because, from my point of view, I like new adventures,” said Aguinaga, who became interested in cooking when he was a teenager and graduated from the Instituto Culinario de Mexico in 2004. After being an apprentice in Europe, he landed in the kitchen of the Setai, a favorite luxury hotel among celebrities in Miami Beach.
“That’s the place where I really started to be more involved with the Asian cuisine, getting knowledge, techniques, the basics of the cuisines,” he said, adding that he’s gained appreciation by food through traveling and learning about new cultures so he can blend them in his cuisine.
“I’m motivated to learn new places and eat new food, I like to eat, but it doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated. Sometimes one ingredient, if it is well-executed, it’s amazing,” he said.
“I will pick a selection of different countries to bring new ideas and also bring some flavors that are adapted to the Detroit palate,” he said, adding that he plans to offer dishes honoring Thai, Japanese and Chinese and other Asian countries.
Aguinaga will work with Experience Zuzu’s sushi chef Sang Park to execute the menu, which features a lot of high-end sharable dishes such as Wagyu gyoza, bluefin tuna tartare, wood-fired dishes, chops, sushi, sake, cocktails and more. There’s also a nightclub on the upper level called Upstairs Bar. Zuzu is part of the Iconic Collection, a restaurant group that owns and operates other glitzy spots like nearby Parc in Campus Martius.
The lush and colorful Experience Zuzu, 511 Woodward in Detroit, is open daily at 4 p.m. and happy hour is 4-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Call (313) 464-7777 or visit experiencezuzu.com.