As Zuma opens at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, chef and co-founder Rainer Becker once again hits the mark in style.
Situated a quick, 40-minute yacht transfer away from the Maldives capital of Malé, the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi is home to 119 reef, beach, and overwater villas, and its latest gastronomic offering, Zuma. This makes for quite an impressive sight pulling up to the dock, with friendly staff waiting to welcome you. While being driven to the villa in a golf cart, each staff member turns to greet us with a hand over their heart – a custom unique to the island, and one that makes Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi instantly feel like home. The resort spans three interconnecting islands, including an independent private one fully staffed to cater to all your luxury needs, 11 distinct dining experiences, and a world-class lifestyle spa and fitness center. Cycling around this tropical paradise, with the sun beaming down and the ocean breeze blowing in the trees, one cannot help feeling absolutely at peace.
The newest jewel in the crown is Zuma Maldives, the first atoll outpost of the award-winning restaurant. “It’s about evolution, not revolution,” is what Rainer Becker, creator and co-founder of Zuma keeps coming back to. Sitting in the newest addition to the Zuma family is a dream come true – and one Becker admits to not even thinking was possible when he opened his first flagship 20 years ago. “I wanted to have a couple of restaurants in London, but only London,” he says. The evolution is evident in this latest Maldives restaurant. It echoes the same philosophy of the original Zuma – excellent food, served in a vibrant atmosphere, while also leaning into the amazing landscape.
It’s the first “floating” Zuma, sitting on stilts over azure waters, with floor-to-ceiling doors folding open to allow the tropical atmosphere to infuse the dining area. The idyllic setting coupled with the quintessential Zuma soundtrack make for an intoxicating dining experience. The restaurant takes its inspiration from its surroundings, while also making use of natural materials. Becker’s vision was brought to life by Noriyoshi Muramatsu, the Japanese designer of his other Zuma branches, as well as an inhouse architect. The founder is involved with everything, being a bit of a perfectionist himself. “The restaurant needs to feel warm,” he comments. “I love architecture and design. I’m not saying that design is important for the success of every restaurant, but it’s a selfish thing for me.” He believes that the flow of the space, the warm color scheme, and the combination of textures and lighting are what make Zuma Maldives unique. Keeping with the tradition of Zuma, the design sweeps around the central kitchen, with the robata grill at the heart. Becker believes the chefs should feel part of the atmosphere of the restaurant, which also lends itself to the honesty of the food – guests can see the produce being used and the chefs can see their reactions to the food, which, in Zuma’s case, is always exceptional. Of course, Becker has no favorites on the menu. “There are just so many,” he smiles. “The menu is what I love eating.”
Throughout his 20 years at the top of the culinary game, Becker has seen both the highest highs and lowest lows – but he never let them get him down. Hand in hand with the highs came the celebrity altercations, one reportedly involving Gladiator Russell Crowe and a New Zealand business man in 2002, soon after the opening of the flagship London restaurant. What started out as quite comical, “almost like a scene out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” an onlooker told The Sun later, soon got out of control, and police were called in. Crowe is just one celebrity in a long line that includes Kanye West to have frequented Zuma in its illustrious past.
As for the lows, they “bring you back to the basics, where you say to yourself, OK, with the next one, do your homework again,” Becker shares. And this is exactly what he did with the new Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi location. Having visited the resort on numerous occasions, Becker realized that the team’s passion and attention to detail would work perfectly with a new Zuma restaurant. Guests can expect the same unrivaled Zuma experience on the island. “The same quality, service, and amazing food, and having a great time with friends,” Becker promises. This was evident at the restaurant’s grand opening, which was standing room only. Rest assured that Zuma’s infectious energy – and delectable food – crossed the oceans safely, and this latest iteration will be as lauded as its siblings.
Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Vogue Man Arabia
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