INTERVIEW - Chef Angelo Agliano and His Vision on the Asian Restaurant Industry Landscape
On July 10th 2019, we interviewed Angelo Agliano, director of Tosca restaurant in Hong Kong. His journey across the top restaurant in Europe ended up now here in Hong Kong. Read more to find out about his career achievements and highlights during his journey to becoming one of the top chef in the world.
Executive Chef & Director of Tosca restaurant in Hong Kong: such a great important goal in the career of a Chef! Your roots are back to Italy, though. A very long path across the major hotels and restaurants around Europe.
Yes, exactly. After finishing hotel school in my beloved Siracusa – Sicily (Italy, note of the author) - , I was recommended by Master Chef Giuseppe Pappalardo to Four Seasons hotel in Milan, under the guide of the renown and trusted Master Chef Sergio Mei who conveyed me the know-how of luxury hospitality.
After minor experiences at Harry’s Bar in London with Alberico Penati and a consulting cooperation for Billionaire by Flavio Briatore in Porto Cervo, further cooperations in Berlin (opening of Italian Felix restaurant inside Kempinski Hotel) and passages in Switzerland and Spain, I finally landed in Paris at the worldwide renown Le Royal Monceau (today run by Raffles Group).
I was only 27 by then and I am very proud to say that I managed to keep the Michelin star that was achieved just one year before my arrival. And it lasted for all 3 years long of my staying there.
I was lucky enough to be one of the Chefs in charge to cook for the 60th birthday anniversary of the Great Joël Robuchon who surprisingly fell in love with my signature Risotto up to the point to call me for his amazing Métropole in Monaco with his (still current) Executive Chef Christophe Cussac. This was the beginning of my high-end culinary experience.
I was in charge to run Yoshi Japanese restaurant as well as the swimming pool dining venue and thanks to the team hard work, we managed to get 2 Michelin stars together.
Japanese restaurant: maybe a hidden hint of Your future life in Asia?!
Who knows…But in 2010 I landed in Hong Kong, at the most famous Atelier by Joël Robuchon , as Chef de Cuisine with Michel Del Burgo and Eric Bouchenoire, whereby we achieved 3 Michelin Stars.
This was my first step into the Asian world, that made me know the most important players on the region – Mr Umberto Bombana was opening his Otto e Mezzo in those days and we became good friends by then. He will always remember that I was the only one betting for 2 Michelin stars immediately after his restaurant opening! Hehehehheh…
In 2013 – after a 3 long years expertise at L’Atelier in Hong Kong, I was sent to the Atelier in Taipei where I stayed till 2016, before coming back again in HK and opening my own restaurant, La Locanda dell’Angelo in Happy Valley.
Another 3 years and then Ritz-Carlton called for me, in order to replace the valued Chef Pino Lavarra and re-shape his Tosca Italian restaurant, which is now called Tosca di Angelo after me.
A very long journey around Europe and Asia that finally brought me to such high-end and fine dining restaurant inside one of the most iconic hotel of Hong Kong.
With reference to mise-en-place, how important is it to serve food in the right plates – and pour wines in the right goblets – with the proper tableware and table-setting?
It is absolutely essential and of primary importance. If I cook the best plate with the finest ingredients and following precise cooking techniques, serving plates become the perfect frame for such beautiful artworks. The same happens with wine. Our head sommelier can confirm this to You. It is our business card when introducing menu to clients.
Tradition and innovation are two popular words when talking about food and hospitality. This is related to recipes, products, but also techniques and tools. How important is technology in Your cuisine?
This is a very interesting question, Lisa! Thanks for asking. According to me, technology is not the main tool The real quality in the kitchen is Technique: exact point of boiling, right temperature of defrosting, premium raw ingredients, proper blast chilling … and so on. Therefore I use technology (blast chillers or sous-vide) but for example I never ever use vacuum machines for fish or seafood. For meat only! As Sicilian Chef, I know fish must not be treated for long time and its nutritional properties cannot be altered by technology. So to say, I use limited technology and I rely on my deep knowledge and expertise of pure culinary techniques.
What have You chosen in terms of ingredients and tableware in order to revolutionise and innovate the Hong Kong Tosca?
First of all, I have focused on the à la carte menu and on tableware. I have decided to transform the restaurant’s exterior by mixing and highlighting what I have learnt from my past and experiences and the values from Southern Italy. You can read the name Angelo in every way.
They say You have been summoned here in order to obtain the second Michelin star for this important Italian fine dining from Ritz-Carlton. After having received three stars for the Joël Robuchon in Hong Kong, how do you currently live the importance of stars?
In my opinion, it would not be true to say “I do not care”. In this job, people aim at receiving stars, as it changes your whole life and business. Actually, the usual question is “ how many stars do you have?”. It’s about a natural process in the everyday life of a worthy place. At the moment, the whole hotel and team is supporting us in this project. I even regret going away on holiday given how much I care about it!
The plate that is served on the table is only the final step of a long and hard work behind the scenes. Which is the most challenging part of this background that is hidden to final costumers?
Well, the most difficult part is being able to transmit your passion in the kitchen to all your co-workers and to make them put their heart into what they do. When I have arrived here, I had brought along with me six people. Now they are 22, since I have found here the other 17 and all of them have remained eventually! I always show everything to everyone who needs my help.
All the work prior the serving of the plate can be perfectly finalised or penalised by the service itself. Are the dining room and kitchen complementary and work together as one or do they often discuss, occasionally due to different opinions?
The two parts have definitely to line up and coordinate their work. The dining room must sell Angelo’s cuisine, as well as people who welcome clients at the entrance… without them I would not be recognized. Reception, greeting, politeness and service are the essential requirements of my guidelines to the team.
You have been working for over 10 years in Asia. How have your plates and cooking transformed under the local influence?
By working here I have reduced the amount of sugar, salt, the cooking of vegetables which are usually crispy instead. However, I still cook “al dente” pasta , but our waiters always inform clients in advance, when ordering. Risotto has still maintained its Italian style. It is essential to adapt and use local products to be matched and combined with Italian ones.
Nowadays chefs are actual tv stars. There are many real talents, but still many have mainly social skills and are daily on tv or on social media with last-minute receipts. How do you live this multimedia boom? Is it an advantage for professionals like You or is it a threat for the quality and perception of the real cuisine?
It is definitely an advantage. Being a chef has never been valued as a high-level job. Hence, this is for the best, since it is finally given the right value. However, it may happen that people complain when they disagree with what is written on the carte, hence I avoid writing plates traditional names and use instead my own bespoken ones.
Thank you Chef Angelo Agliano for your time and for sharing with us such precious insights on your industry.