Rich and famous eye truffle despite slump

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 November, 2008, 12:00am

'If you give big truffle it shows you are very prestigious and if you give a lot of truffle it means - well - it means that you are very sophisticated.'

So says Umberto Bombana, an Italian chef with The Ritz-Carlton, which is hosting a white-truffle auction in Tokyo tonight. And for a few Hong Kong tycoons, the lean economic times are no excuse for skimping on rich food.

Nine of the city's richest residents are expected to vie for the 'Queen Tartufo' star fungus at the 10th annual world Alba white-truffle auction. The group hopes to make the winning bid once again for the city.

Last year, a consortium of mainland property developers in Hong Kong paid HK$1.4 million for a 750g truffle. The year before, billionaire Sir Gordon Wu Ying-sheung paid HK$1.25 million for a 1.5kg specimen. And in 2005, a group of Hong Kong investment bankers paid HK$1.07 million for a 1.2kg truffle.

Mark Lettenbichler, area general manager of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, said nine of the 110 attendees tonight were from Hong Kong.

'I can't say who they are but I am sure most people in Hong Kong would recognise their names,' Mr Lettenbichler said. 'People have flown in from Hong Kong, Singapore [and] Taipei, but the majority of the guests are from Tokyo.

'I think the pressure is on Tokyo to make the winning bid. They know Hong Kong has outbid everyone ... for the past three years. This year will be unique: we really don't know how the bids will go because it goes hand-in-hand with the economy.'

He said the size of the truffle was unknown as the hunt for the 'queen' was still on until the day before.

'Last year was a tough season ... but this year has been a good season and we are hoping for a good size.'

All proceeds will go to charity. Last December, casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun paid HK$2.5 million for a 1.5kg white truffle, outbidding celebrities in London and Florence at the Tuscan Truffle Auction.