Some of Umberto Bombana's fondest memories include helping his grandmother and mother prepare Sunday lunch every week. 'Cooking is like playing music - you have thousands of notes that are ingredients and you combine them by using different cooking techniques,' says the chef and owner of 8 ?Otto e Mezzo. 'It's so important to have fresh seasonal ingredients because the flavour of the food comes from nature.'
Originally from Bergamo in northern Italy, Bombana came to Hong Kong 18 years ago when he opened Toscana, the fine-dining Italian restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong in Central. 'I worked there until the restaurant closed in 2005,' he says fondly. The next step was a natural progression. 'Opening my own restaurant was always my dream, but it's not easy to put together. The timing for opening 8 ?Otto e Mezzo came in a natural way. Before the restaurant closed, I had many offers from other restaurants to join them, and the hotel offered me a management position in the company. But I wanted to have a very good restaurant. When you have the best fish, meat and cook it just right, that is the greatest expression of cooking.'
Bombana had to wait for space in Alexandra House to be vacated, so for about 18 months he worked on food promotions or consulted for other restaurants. 'Planning for my restaurant took a year, and the time didn't go quickly - I am used to working in the kitchen all the time, so when I didn't have a restaurant to go to I felt lost.' Nevertheless, the opening of 8 ?Otto e Mezzo in December 2009 was a resounding success topped by two stars from the prestigious Michelin Guide. 'I was so surprised to hear the restaurant received two stars,' Bombana says. 'Michelin had never come to Hong Kong before, and receiving stars is what you want to achieve.'
He is also known as 'The King of White Truffles' for highly anticipated auctions. In 2006, he was named the Worldwide Ambassador of the White Truffle by the Piedmontese Regional Enoteca Cavour. The restaurant business is all about timing, from the kitchen to the dining room. Making sure guests are served within a reasonable time is crucial to their dining experience.
'Guests want to have their appetiser in 15 minutes, and if they don't get it they'll be annoyed,' he says. 'The pressure is intense but it energises me. There is also the timing in the kitchen. When the food is burned or overcooked, spoiling the food is the worst thing a chef can do.'
Bombana 'named the restaurant after Federico Fellini's movie because I was born in the same week it was released, in February 1963. In the movie the main character is a film director who is going through a creative crisis, and in dealing with it he thinks of the past, and I too go through problems in the kitchen and need to work them out.' He saves his day off on Sunday for his wife and two children when they have a meal together, continuing his family tradition.
1950 10 Days GMT
'I did a food promotion in Shanghai a few years ago and I was given this watch as a token of appreciation. I wear it nearly all the time. I like it because it also gives the time in Italy.'
Grande Reverso Duo
'I've always been attracted to Jaeger-LeCoultre watches. I like things with meticulous designs, much like the way I cook my dishes. That's why I find Jaeger-LeCoultre watches so attractive.'