As promised, if you have followed us over the past few weeks, we offer you a short interview with Antimo Maria Merone, executive chef of 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana in Macau and holder of a Michelin star. In this period, after the spread of Covid-19, Antimo is stuck in Hong Kong due to the closure of many Macau restaurants and is working with Umberto Bombana on some new recipes. Probably many of you have gone to starred restaurants and tasted the dishes of these artists, but what do we really know about them? What was the path that led them to dedicate their life to cooking?
Antimo, can you tell us your path to becoming a chef?
Cooking has always been a passion since I was a boy but, despite this, it was not my first course of study. After completing high school, I enrolled in Economics of financial markets at Bocconi, in Milan. At some point, I realized it was not my way; so, 6 exams from graduation, in 2004 I left Milan and went to Berlin. I've been there for 4 years. At the beginning I worked in small restaurants, then I grew up a bit and, in the end, my parents convinced me to attend Alma, the International Cooking School, in Colorno. After Alma, I did an internship with Massimo Camia, then a little experience with Antonino Cannavacciuolo on Orta Lake. After a while I met Philippe Leveille’ by Miramonti l’Altro. At that time, Philippe had the plan to open a restaurant in Hong Kong and so I moved to Hong Kong in 2012 as head chef of L’altro where I got the Michelin Star. I worked with Philippe for two and a half years in Hong Kong and in 2014, Umberto Bombana proposed me to work with him. I worked side by side with him for 7 months and then opened the Macau restaurant in 2015 where I am still now.
How are you experiencing this period after the spread of Covid-19?
In this period I am stuck in Hong Kong, I cannot return to Macau because the borders are closed for foreign workers but, fortunately, my wife lives here; therefore I am working with Umberto (Bombana, ed) on the new a la carte menu and developing new ideas for Macau restaurant which has been renewed in the meantime and will reopen in July. My condition is therefore quite lucky, there is no lockdown and I have the opportunity to take advantage of Bombana facilities to go on further with new projects and new recipes.
Your condition, in these days, has an advantage over other colleagues. How are starred restaurants living, in your opinion?
I have several friends who do this job and have one, two or three Michelin stars like Lasarte in Barcelona, for example. In Hong Kong the city never really stopped; the government has supported catering with concessions and subsidies to support staff payments. In fact, Hong Kong is in a better condition than, for example, in Macau where starred restaurants have been closed since February. However, the more casual restaurants, that meet the needs of the local market, are still open.
In our last article we talked about how in this period, thanks to the lockdown, people have rediscovered the home dimension by starting to cook and perhaps trying old "grandmother" recipes. In your opinion, can this factor or could it influence the concept of catering and the habits of families?
I think this situation is positive for restaurants. If people approach food by understanding the value of ingredients, the time of preparation and the quality of the dish, it is only good. At home there are limits in cooking while in a restaurant there are different preparations and techniques that allow you to achieve different results. In addition, people have become aware of the effort and the work behind each recipe because in this period, staying at home, you have more free time. In a restaurant, however, everything is simpler because the experience is more relaxing and avoids people all the preparation and cleaning process behind every dinner or lunch. The only problem I see now is that people may be afraid to spend on unnecessary things like starred dinner. Here, this could reduce the concept of a high-level restaurant.
As a last question, in fact, we wanted to ask you how you see or imagine the catering of the future. Will people continue to go to the restaurant or will there be room for high-level chefs to cook, for example, at home of some customers who want to live this experience but in their own home dimension?
In my opinion, catering will never die, even after all the automation processes that, in a certain sense, have brought us a revolution in many processes. The kitchen still has a lot to do with the chef's handiwork and skill. As for haute cuisine, the challenge will be different. People may no longer be willing to travel to visit "that" particular restaurant. There are upscale restaurants in the middle of nowhere where people go, planning a trip specifically for that. Here, the concept of destination restaurant could suffer a bit while the high-end restaurant in the big city, in my opinion, will have no problems. As for the home offer, in my opinion it will grow for those who have the economic availability. For example, in this period, I do not hesitate to work in a restaurant, I worked for private events in the apartment or on a yacht.
The interview ends with Antimo promising he will welcome us to Macau as soon as the restaurant is ready and the borders reopened. So, once again…stay tuned !!!