Apr 19, 2012|
I’ve been here since ’93, so it’s been 18 years now. I came over to open Toscana [at the old Ritz-Carlton]. When they invited me to come to Hong Kong, I was very interested. In Los Angeles, I worked with a very famous anthropologist, and we were looking at how Asia was growing as a new market, a new culinary destination, with all their flavors and spices.
As a base, I like Hong Kong. It’s becoming an international gourmet city. I was hoping it would become like this a few years ago and now [it is]. Great chefs are coming to Hong Kong. It’s a bit like New York and London, and of course we have the best Cantonese food in the world.
You open a restaurant, and then you meet your wife, so far and so on. She’s Chinese from Hong Kong. She works in PR and marketing.
I’m very, very happy [about being the first Italian restaurant outside Italy to win three Michelin stars]. It’s amazing because we’ve reached a new level of consideration and standard. Usually Italian cuisine is popular, but it’s more casual and family [-oriented]. So to represent Italian food at a high level is a very honorable thing. And to be recognized is a dream come true, yes.
We want to [make things] a little bit more refined. I wanna [make] real Italian food, with the flavor of the Mediterranean, and following the seasons, the traditions.
I think French fine dining is a bit more structural. It has more sauce, more technique, it’s a different style. With Italian [cuisine], we have a bit more of natural flavors, we don’t use much butter—we use a lot of olive oil. We like roasting, we like shorter cooking times and fewer elements in our dishes. We are more simple, the French are more opulent.
Ingredients are the life of the kitchen. I like beautiful ingredients and they make me very excited. I tend to get my vegetables from Italy. But I use pigeons from France, Colorado lamb, wagyu from Australia, seafood from Japan, Europe, New Zealand. That’s the beauty of this city. You get the best ingredients from all over the world.
[In Hong Kong], you eat ginger and spice daily, basically. I don’t use much [of that in my cooking], but I try to give an authentic Mediterranean flavor. Chinese [people] have good taste, they eat great food every day. Chinese food is very good, technically perfect; the [people here] have a great palate.
Three things are very important [in the success of a restaurant]: Great food, and then I think the service has to be good. If you have great food, and then you serve it the wrong way, or get the orders wrong, [the diners] miss out. The environment is also very important, you have to feel relaxed, you want to spend a few hours really enjoying [the experience] and having fun.
I love to work in a hotel. A hotel is like a small city. There are a lot of things happening all the time, it’s really fantastic. But for a chef, owning your own restaurant is much better, because in the hotel you are part of a big organization and you’re an amenity. Here, we are not part of a big complex. For making decisions on what to cook, what to buy, it only depends on me.
Running your own restaurant is like driving a Ferrari. Working at a hotel is, I dunno, like, driving a bus or an airplane.
I’m more happy [with my own restaurant] because that’s what I [always] wanted to do. Not because I didn’t like the lifestyle at the hotel, but because I realized a dream.
You get three Michelin stars for the job you did in 2011. 2012 is a new race for me. So I start from zero, I don’t have three Michelin stars [this year]. This is my way of thinking. Because the inspector will come and then they will check me many more times, so it’s like a new examination. Three stars is not an arrival point—it’s beautiful to receive them, but it’s only the beginning.
My plan is to run this restaurant well. This is my major concentration. I don’t want to expand, it doesn’t make sense. This is not a factory where you produce things and then you can sell them all over. Maybe I will do a more casual restaurant in Hong Kong, but there will only be one [8 ½-style] restaurant here. [Having said that], at the end of [last] year we opened a restaurant in Shanghai. It’s a similar style, with a great chef and pastry chef and similar philosophy as [8 ½ Hong Kong].