Fifteen years ago, German-born chef Rainer Becker and co-founder Arjun Waney opened their first Japanese restaurant, Zuma, on a quiet backstreet in Knightsbridge. Today, Zuma is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning brand encompassing 11 venues worldwide including ones in Hong Kong, Rome and, most recently, Las Vegas.
As if this isn’t achievement enough, Becker is also the driving force behind the well-loved ROKA Japanese restaurants, of which there are now four across the capital. And let’s not forget Oblix, a British-European rotisserie that occupies, astoundingly, an entire floor of Western Europe’s tallest building, The Shard. This is not just your average success story. The Zuma brand reportedly made an annual turnover of more than $200 million in 2015. So, what’s Becker’s secret? “Attention to detail, passion and the team,” he answers modestly. An unbridled ambition might also have something to do with it.
Becker realised his love of cooking as a child while helping his mother in the kitchen and, from then on, there was no stopping him. Subsequently, he worked in some of Germany’s most highly regarded kitchens, including the Michelin-starred Königshof in Munich and latterly as chef de cuisine at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Cologne. It was his affiliation with the Hyatt Group that would define his career when, after a two-year stint at the Hyatt Sydney, Becker became executive chef at the Park Hyatt Tokyo under the guidance of chef Kenichiro Ooe, whom he cites as his biggest influence. Here Becker spent the next six years immersed in Japanese culture, learning the culinary techniques that would later inspire him to establish Zuma.