Umberto Bombana, chef of the three-star Otto e Mezzo restaurant, will once again be hosting the World Truffle Auction on Sunday November 13th in a live link with Grinzane Cavour Castle
No fewer than nine Michelin stars twinkle above the restaurants of Umberto Bombana, the Bergamo chef who for thirty years has been dedicated to promoting great Italian cuisine in Asia. He started out in 1993 in Hong Kong, where he runs what has since become an institution: 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo, the only Italian restaurant abroad which has held three Michelin stars ever since 2011. And more recently he has extended his culinary empire to other Asian metropolises: Beijing, Shanghai and Macao. All successful restaurants, all run with the same philosophy: educate the Chinese palate in Italian taste. Without forcing the issue, but at the same time never making compromises, especially when it comes to raw materials. A challenge which can be said to have been pulled off handsomely when we also consider the fact that today Italy’s is far and away the most popular Western cuisine in China.
There’s another record though that Bombana can boast of with a certain pride: having been instrumental in getting Hong Kong’s keen gourmets to come to know and appreciate Alba white truffle, thanks also to the World Truffle Auction which his 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo restaurant has been hosting uninterruptedly for more than ten years in a live link with Grinzane Cavour Castle. This will be the case again on Sunday November 13th, when the XXIII edition will be staged of the successful event which each year raises staggering sums, all donated to charity. An Honorary Knight of our Order since 2016, and Worldwide Ambassador of the Alba White Truffle, the chef is a veritable institution, a focal point in the oriental metropolis for enthusiasts of the tuber magnatum pico.
Bombana, what is the secret of your success?
“A very simple rule: working well. If you respect the ingredients, use the finest raw materials and know how to find the right balance of flavours in your dishes, you have done everything you need to. When you have great meat, perfectly-worked vegetables and a fitting sauce, you already have a dish that deserves three stars. At the end of the day, it’s a bit like the white truffle itself: nature does all the work, and the chef just has to know how to give it due respect”.
How do you win over the Chinese palate to the intense aroma and flavour of the truffle?
“People here expect an Italian cuisine capable of matching oriental tastes. On my autumn menu I have three or four classic dishes, such as tagliolini, risotto and egg, and I make them even more exquisite with 8 or 10 grams of Alba white truffle. Success is guaranteed, even though each dish costs something like 100 euro. But then I also propose pairings with a couple of more creative dishes, like marinated amberjack with autumnal vegetables, or roe deer rump coated with roast porcini powder, and these recipes also meet with a lot of interest because they act as a bridge between two rich and fascinating culinary cultures. In another of my premises, the Ciak trattoria which is also here on the island, I even serve it on a rather special pizza”.
Is it true that the truffle is now as well-known in Hong Kong as in Italy?
“In the great restaurants yes, but obviously not among the general population. The aroma of the white truffle wafts from one kitchen to another now in this city. And while as much as a kilo of truffle a day may be consumed in my restaurant in autumn, it is so well-known and appreciated by connoisseurs in Hong Kong that it has made its way onto the menus of around fifty venues, including those of my Chinese, Japanese and French colleagues. Once upon a time there was just one importer from Italy; now there are at least a dozen”.
Has the Truffle Auction contributed to this success?
“Certainly: the Auction has become a sort of institution, dedicated in its entirety to charity. Thanks to the generosity of great figures from the worlds of finance and fashion, over the years we have raised around 3 million euro, donated to the Mother’s Choice association which takes care of single mothers. There is great anticipation this year. Everyone is asking me about the menu: for now all I can say is that I have invited along two Japanese chefs, plus a couple of others, so in the end there will be five of us cooking six dishes and there are going to be lots of surprises. The enthusiasm and determination with which the event organized by the Enoteca Piemontese Cavour is met here suggest that everything possible will be done here again this year to secure the most precious lot”.
by Roberto Fiori