Dr. Michael Zinner’s late wife used to joke that if he wanted a good meal, he’d have to learn to cook it for himself. He took her up on the challenge in a colossal way.
Then the chief of surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Zinner temporarily traded in his scrubs and scalpel for an apron and butcher knife to spend a few weeks learning from the best: chef Eric Ripert and his team at New York’s famed Le Bernardin.
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Rising from fava-bean peeler to hot-appetizer chef, Zinner left the gig with a specialty dish under his belt — lobster risotto, made from scratch — and a new perspective. “A classic French kitchen and an operating room both take hard work, long hours and great passion,” he said. “Two completely different universes with many parallels.”
No typical day for Dr. Michael Zinner
Never one to back away from a challenge, Zinner left Boston for Miami two years ago to oversee the launch of the Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida. As the founding CEO and executive medical director, he’s responsible for everything from quality and finances to recruitment and retention.
“I make sure the trains run on time,” Zinner said. “There’s no typical day.”
The Institute, which consolidated cancer care under one roof from 13 different operations when it opened in January 2017, sees 1,000 patients a day. Under Zinner’s leadership, the Institute became the second in the nation to launch a new form of radiation therapy that uses continuous MRI to personalize treatment and target tumors and surrounding tissues. He’s recruited more than 50 cancer specialists from around the country, adding to the 20 already on staff.
A Miami native, Zinner grew up boating, sailing and fishing, once catching a 400-pound tuna. Though he doesn’t currently own a boat, he has something better: “Friends with boats!” he said with a laugh.
Finding beauty in art
He also finds respite looking at the oils, prints and sculptures that fill his Coral Gables condo, collected with his late wife who once ran a contemporary art gallery in Boston. “There’s a great beauty and relaxation in art,” Zinner said. “There are some pieces I can look at every day and still see something different in them. I like to read about the artists and their motivations.”
On Sunday mornings, Zinner, who lives alone (“I don’t have time for a pet,” he said), heads to his terrace overlooking Biscayne Bay with a stack of newspapers and a pot of coffee. That’s about all the down time he gets; his 12-hour workdays don’t leave time for cooking. “I have an oven that I’m pretty sure still has the instruction manual inside,” he acknowledged.
Still, Zinner manages to find some tasty meals. “The food is so good at the Cancer Institute,” he said, “because we have celebrity chef Cindy Hutson overseeing it. Sometimes on my way out, I’ll stop in and see what they’ve cooked that day and take it home!”
And if lobster risotto ever shows up on the menu, you’ll know who was taking a break from medicine to hang with chef Hutson in the kitchen.