INTERVIEW - Restaurant Manager Roberto Ame (Nicholini's, Conrad Hotel) and His Vision on the Asian Restaurant Industry Landscape

On October 2019, we interviewed Roberto Ame, Restaurant Mananger of Nicholini's, Italian fine dining at Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong. Read more to find out about his career achievements and highlights. Roberto Ame

He’s been working with the legendary Italian Chef Gualtiero Marchesi at the early age of 27 years old at Albereta resort. In fact, he started very early to work in the hospitality business, as he had worked at Maison Flipot in Turin, while still studying.

Shortly afterward, he moved to the US in Washington for a couple of years and then back to Turin at the glam trendy Del Cambio restaurant, under the guide of Mr Bruno Casetta – Vice Champion World Sommelier. And it will be him who will later introduce Chef Gualtiero Marchesi to Mr Ame and luckily he was called among the Chef’s Brigade of 60 people. Just after two months, he was entitled wine responsible for the cellar.

While on holiday, he was working in France at 3 Michelin starred restaurant. Early 2000 Mr Casetta called him back to NY for the new opening of Palio opened by Tony May and Andreas Hellrigl. Because of 9/11 events, Mr Roberto decides to go back to Italy and goes back to Del Cambio, where he will remain for further 8 years – the iconic restaurant for Italian Royal family, the most famous soccer teams, movie stars and so on…

His experiences abroad were not over yet: he was called to Brazil and then Singapore with Garibaldi Group, and eventually arrived in Hong Kong for a project with Paolo Casagrande of an Italian-Spanish restaurant.

His next step was the Italian restaurant Angelini in Hong Kong Shangri-La Kowloon for 2 years as FnB quality control supervisor. After 2 year- experience in Shangri-La he arrived at Conrad Hotel, where he’s still restaurant manager of the fine dining Nicholini’s Italian restaurant.

Nicholini’s is an iconic restaurant all over Hong Kong for its offer of high-end Italian cuisine. Do You usually propose classic dishes or do You also owe to offer something more “extreme”? What’s the feedback from clients?

We usually propose classic dishes, which are also easy to be sourced here in Hong Kong. Still, this is a very special city, as most of Western products are easily available , allowing to choose from a large array of many different products. The premium quality of our raw ingredients enhance a more intense taste on palate when enjoying our menus.

With reference to mise-en-place, how important is it the plating, food presentation and the usage of right goblets for wine tastings?

It is utterly important. First of all as aesthetical point of view, secondly – referred to wines, specifically – because of olfactory reasons. As Italians, we got a very high sensorial and aesthetic perception. Hence, the correct tableware is a key point for any restaurant and fine dining venue. It is synonym of a special care to details.

What’s the most important challenge for a restaurant manager of such relevant restaurant in a hectic, polyhedral metropole as Hong Kong?

To be consistent. To keep on improving. Even if the venue is already a top level one, there are always updates and new refurbishments. To keep being adherent to my life philosophy: being always attached to my roots and traditions, while updating styles and working cycles. For instance, Richard Ginori porcelain are the exact recall to the Royal Savoy family. That’s part of my homeland and I am quite proud of it. Still, this brand brings elegance, richness and new inputs for a fine mise-en-place.

The beautifully plated food we see on the table is just the peak of an iceberg, of a much deeper work “behind the scenes”. What’s the best and most challenging part of this hidden part that we can’t see when tasting Your dishes?

That’s definitely the sourcing activity and tasting. I love tasting raw ingredients, premium gems of our culinary tradition. It’s about the selection of our most genuine products and I love this special part, reserved to a few.

Do kitchen and dining room act in a synchronized team work? Do they perfectly cooperate together?

There is a great synergy and high cooperation. We need to support each other, without prevailing one another. We help the promotion of best dishes towards clients and they compensate our efforts by preparing outstanding menus.

You’ve been based in Asia for long time now. How has the Italian style changed? Is it now proposed in a different way on culinary point of view? What’s Your perception on this?

Yes, indeed, it has improved a lot. There are many more Italian chefs nowadays and it’s very popular to invite guest chefs from overseas to enhance special events and organize ad hoc tasting gala dinners.

Tradition and innovation are two different words and concepts, that are often used within hospitality as well. How would You balance them?

I would rate 80% tradition and 20% innovation. Thanks to the endless variety offered by our Italian background

How difficult is it to balance the market demand and the wish to keep on innovating by aiming at something new?

The most important thing and the key solution is Method. It’s something You gain by time: attention to details, analysis of data, capability to understand clients requests. Being part of glorious groups such as Shangri-La or Conrad hotels allows You to work with strong basis, being offered a high amount of several figures and breakdowns. Our work is constantly monitored and we are given a lot of helpful inputs.

What can’t be missed on Roberto Ame’s table?

A good glass of wine!

Mr Ame, it’s been a pleasure talking to You and share Your wise long experience in hospitality industry. All the best for the next future projects.

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