Food provides moments of bliss

Qualified software engineer Zineb “Zizi” Hattab exploded onto the gastro scene in 2020 with her vegan restaurant KLE in Zurich. The career changer recognized early on that her true passion was creating delicious food.

Zineb “Zizi” Hattab was born in Barcelona to Moroccan parents and grew up in Spain. She worked with Andreas Caminada in Fürstenau, Massimo Bottura in Modena, the Roca brothers in Girona, Josean Alija in Bilbao and Daniela Soto-Innes in New York. She owns and operates two restaurants in Zurich: Kle, a former neighbourhood restaurant that she opened in 2020, and Dar, a Moroccan restaurant that she took over in 2021.

It’s a story with unexpected twists and turns and is a wonderful example of how anything is possible if you pour everything into achieving your dreams and pursuing your passion. It’s the story of Zineb “Zizi” Hattab, the daughter of Moroccan immigrants who was born and grew up in Barcelona, studied mechanical engineering and became a software engineer. And then she turned her life upside down and took it in a surprising new direction.

In 2012, not long after she’d finished her bachelor’s degree in Barcelona, Zizi Hattab and her partner moved to eastern Switzerland, where both of them had secured jobs with renowned industrial companies. “But I soon began asking myself if I really wanted to spend the rest of my life programming interfaces for industrial production,” the young chef tells us today. She is sitting at one of the wooden tables in her cosy “neighbourhood restaurant” in Zurich Wiedikon, and she looks pleased.

That’s because Zizi Hattab answered the question she had asked herself with a definitive “No”. Then, after spending more and more time in her kitchen preparing food and studying cookbooks and preparation methods, and after she’d seated more and more happy guests around her table, she decided to take the next step.

“I applied for an internship with Andreas Caminada in Fürstenau, Massimo Bottura in Modena and the Roca brothers in Girona,” Hattab tells us. That was in 2013, and with her energy-fuelled and newly discovered passion for cooking, the energetic young woman took off on her second career path. It was often hard, she reflects. For some of the time she lived in shared flats with lots of other interns, and the work in the kitchen was tough: “At the beginning I often just didn’t understand the language used in the kitchen,” Zizi adds.

Yet it became clear that she had not just the desire and determination necessary to go far in the world of haute cuisine, but the talent, too. In 2017, Zizi Hattab and her husband moved to New York, and Zizi took on a significant position at “Cosme”, run by Mexican top chef Enrique Olvera and his head chef Daniela Soto-Innes. “I ran the kitchen so that Daniela could get on with other things,” she explains. Cosme is a vibrant restaurant located in New York’s Flatiron District and is listed as one of the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants”, and the career changer describes her time there as her “master’s in cooking”.

Life is calmer nowadays and, sitting in her own little restaurant in the middle of a Zurich residential area, Zizi Hattab is clear about why her job is so great, telling us, “cooking food which makes people happy and creating special moments for them is something very unique. Food is my way of showing people love. And I also love talking to people from all walks of life: guests, people from the laundry service, farmers.”

“Cooking food which makes people happy and creating special moments for them is something very unique. Food is my way of showing people love. And I also love talking to people from all walks of life: guests, people from the laundry service, farmers.”

The kitchen of Zizi’s “neighbourhood restaurant” – as she calls it – is small, but Zizi makes up for it with her big ideas. And since space is at a premium, she works with a V-ZUG oven and steam cooker as well as a vacuum drawer: “I don’t use other appliances any more – the compact dimensions mean that we save space, and the two ovens are so reliable that we can have them running for 12 to 16 hours at a time”, she says. She uses the steam cooker for dishes such as tamales made from corn and olive oil and then filled with mushrooms. And the precise steaming function is also ideal for sterilizing pickled vegetables, which play a key role in her cuisine. Meanwhile, the dry heat of the oven is particularly useful for baking the delicious treats served up for KLE’s Sunday brunch: brioche, carrot cake, cinnamon buns and potato buns.

Thanks to the experience she has gained in multi-award winning top kitchens across the world, the new restaurateur has also developed her own highly effective management principles: “You can teach anyone how to chop an onion or what a particular dish should taste like”, she says. “What’s important to me is having the right attitude and respect within the team – to each other, the guests, and your work.” Explaining her philosophy as a boss, Hattab says she wants everyone to grow together as a team and to solve problems by talking about them with those involved, continuing that, “I want us to be proud of what we do without becoming too self-important.”

At KLE, her passion for cooking and lots of well thought out details and processes combine to make guests feel as though they are having a meal with good friends. Zizi Hattab – a Gault Millau newcomer with 14 points and 1 Michelin star – combines a Japanese cooking method with traditional Swiss dried pears in one of her vegan dishes, and uses chillies grown on the shores of Lake Lucerne as the basis for food that evokes the heat of Mexico. The well-travelled young chef seems to have no difficulty in expressing her bright personality through a highly diverse range of dishes. And part of the very special magic at KLE is the fact that its chef has found happiness there pursuing her professional dreams.