Hong Kong Madame - English

Chefs of Hong Kong - Angelo Agliano, Director of Tosca di Angelo

June 24th 2019

by Aude Camus 
Few months ago, I received a quite yummy news: the appointment of chef Angelo Agliano at one Michelin star Tosca di Angelo in The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. While doing some researches on the chef, I read somewhere that chef Joel Robuchon once said chef Angelo Agliano made the best risotto he has ever tried. God, that’s not nothing coming from the most awarded ever chef in history! I had to give a go to that Sicilian risotto and meet the chef!
About the risotto? Lucky me, chef had received fresh beautiful morels on that day, and I was presented with the smoothest, yummiest, tastiest risotto featuring those beautiful babies and big chunks of Italian cheese. 
What about I leave you with the Chef while I’m making sure to lick that plate clean? 

Chefs of Hong Kong - Angelo Agliano, Director of Tosca di Angelo
Hi Angelo, very nice to meet you today! Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and your culinary itinerary? 
I was born in Sicily but left my island, the fisherman life and the very local cuisine, quite quickly after finishing my studies and went to Milano where I started to work at the Four Seasonshotel and discovered the world of high-end cuisine. I then lived in London, Spain, Switzerland and also Berlin before finally moving to Paris in 2003 to become chef at Il Carpaccio (editor’s note: 1 Michelin Star restaurant) in Le Royal Monceau (editor’s note: luxury hotel in Paris). It might be one of the biggest chances I was ever given in my life! I was only 26 back then and it was such a challenging experience for me! Imagine, I was just a simple fisherman son and Paris is the motherland of gastronomy! I’ve always wanted to work in Paris. France is the birthplace of haute-cuisine, no matter what, and this will never change. And I am kind of an old school chef, because for me old school cuisine is more authentic. If you want to be a good chef, you need to learn the basics and the basics of gastronomy are to be learnt in France. I am Sicilian, I am very attached to traditions, I cannot help it. 

I heard that chef Robuchon once said you made the best risotto he has ever tried. When was it? How did you meet the Chef? 
In Paris, I became close friend with the pastry chef of Robuchon’s restaurant in Saint-Germain. He loved my cuisine at Il Carpaccio  and offered me one of the greatest gifts ever: to host chef Robuchon’s 60thbirthday in my restaurant, in 2006. I still can’t believe this really happened … me cooking for a table of Michelin star chefs. I don’t think I’ll ever seen that many Michelin star chefs eating at the same table again! Of course, I was very stressed! I told myself there was no way I was going to impress them, so the best idea was to stay humble, stick to what I knew and do 100% Angelo. And when I finally went out of the kitchen, Chef Robuchon stood up and started clapping at me, congratulating me on my risotto … it was the moment of my life! Feels like it was yesterday. 

Did it open any doors for you?
I did go to work for chef Robuchon indeed but not right away. I first went to Lenôtre, to train on French cuisine. And then joined Robuchon in Monaco in 2007. I was only supposed to spend 6 months in Monaco and then moved to Hong Kong but instead I was given another great challenge: open Robuchon’s first ever Japanese restaurant, in Monte Carlo. My first reaction was to say no, I just didn’t know anything about Japanese cuisine. But he wasn’t really the kind of person you could say no to. He told me “you do it and one day you’ll thank me for it”. Today I am very grateful for this opportunity he gave me. This experience taught me so much. I’m Italian and I don’t do Japanese cuisine but the techniques I learn from this experience are very precious. 

You are mentioning your Sicilian roots quite a lot. Is it important, for you, to stay true to those roots and showcase products from your country?

Chefs of Hong Kong - Angelo Agliano, Director of Tosca di Angelo
Yes of course. Dried spices, tomatoes, olive oil … they have to come from Italy! I’ve tried maybe 1,000 different oregano from pretty much everywhere and it’s just not the same as Italian oregano. Especially because today it is so easy to get those products in Hong Kong so I have no excuse not to use authentic Italian products. 

Do you feel like you have a role on educating people to what is the true taste of thing?

Chefs of Hong Kong - Angelo Agliano, Director of Tosca di Angelo
I don’t like this word: educate. Education is between 0 and 14, after you cannot educate or change the people anymore. I am not a teacher. I can only share my style and hope people will like it. 
And so how did you first arrive in Hong Kong?
Thanks to Mr Robuchon. That was our deal from the very beginning and after opening the Japanese restaurant in Monte Carlo I finally came here to work at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Landmark as Chef de Cuisine. But it was quite a short stay as he then sent me to Taiwan in 2010. 
Something funny is that before moving to Taipei, I wasn’t sure yet what my next step would be so did interview for a few positions in Hong Kong including here at Tosca. It didn’t work-out though, I was too expensive for them back then. I actually quite like the story of how they heard about me and contacted me. They first asked my good friend chef Umberto Bombana if he wanted to join or even just be a consultant for the restaurant. But at that time, he wasn’t interested because his restaurant, Otto E Mezzo, was about to open. They asked him if he could recommend anyone and he told them “if you are looking for someone already based in Hong Kong, the only Italian Chef who can compete with me is my friend Angelo at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon”. Probably one of the best compliments I’ve ever received in my life. 
I spend 3 years in L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Tapei and in 2013 I turned 36 and felt like it was the time for me to open my own restaurant. It took me a lot of courage to tell chef Robuchon! I can still remember him looking at me and tell me “How old are you? 36? I was 36 too when I opened my restaurant in Saint-Germain and it is the perfect age to open your own restaurant so I’ll support you with everything you need”. He truly had me cry! 

How was it like to open your own restaurant? 
Not easy! I first found partners in Taipei. A very rich local family keen on funding my project and run the restaurant from 2013 to 2016. But after 3 years we closed the restaurant. At that same time, one of my very good friends had just opened a wine bar in Hong Kong and his landlord was also renting the next-door shop where my friend was keen on opening a restaurant. This is how we opened Locanda dell’ Angelo in Happy Valley in November 2016.  

And how did you join Tosca?

Chefs of Hong Kong - Angelo Agliano, Director of Tosca di Angelo
I knew the previous chef Pino (editor’s note: Chef Pino Lavarra) and I knew he wanted to leave. As for me, after two years running my own restaurant, I was looking for another challenge to take on. You know I’m Italian, I’m like this, when things are working smoothly, I need something else to keep me entertained. I was so happy to take on this great chance to work here at Tosca. Today, I spend more time here at Tosca than in my own restaurant because I only joined few months ago (editor’s note: in January 2019) and needed to implement my style. I’m not here to just replicate what was done before, I’m here to bring my very own personal touch, not the easiest part. When you open a restaurant from scratch, everything is chosen by you. The only person you can complain to is yourself. But if you take-on something which has been open for already more than 15 years it takes time to make it yours. 
Something amazing though, and the first time it happened in my life, is that no one from the team has left since I joined. My feeling is that everybody was looking for a bit of fresh air. And he touches me a lot that they are trusting me to bring it to this beautiful place. And I am definitely going to bring it because I’m not the kind of person to try, I am more of a do-er. Trying means 50% chances of failing, doing sets you up on the road to success. 



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