Yes, Chef! Andrea Viglione, Long-time Corporate Chef of Pirata Group
August 23, 2023
Asia is one food-crazy continent! We take great care to pick restaurants based on culinary vibes, rankings on international gourmand guides, mentions in magazines, Instagramability, and added hunger. Yes, Chef! features the region’s chefs' stories of love and labour in kitchens, which has made some of our restaurants the next big thing in Asia.
Born with a passion for fresh ingredients, chef Andrea Viglione began his culinary career at the young age of 16. After gaining extensive experience in Italy, where he mastered cooking, he moved to Hong Kong to help Pirata Group launch new concepts, including Pici and The Pizza Project.
At these restaurants, chef Andrea brings his unique approach to Italian cuisine, which focuses on the nature of fresh ingredients. His warm energy and vast experience will delight your taste buds and leave you wanting more.
As the group’s leading Corporate Chef, making key business decisions on costs and ingredients, Andrea speaks to The Beat Asia about his experience with Hong Kong’s fastest-growing F&B group, amassing 14 unique concepts in 2021 and 15 in 2022, as Pirata Group plans to open 100 restaurants in the next five years.
When people asked you, when you were younger, what you wanted to be when you were older, did you always want to become a chef?
I love this question! I always loved food and felt that [a career in F&B] was so cool. When I began cooking in my teenage years, I loved food, drawn to the vibe of restaurants, cooking with different fresh ingredients. I began my F&B career working on the bar, creating everything from antipasti to coffee to gin and tonic.
Beyond, I drew to the kitchen to support restaurants I worked at. I felt it was the heart of the place, the passion and the soul. As I grew older, I became grateful that working in a kitchen involves brain power, attention to timing and costs, and the right mix of these.
How did your Pirata Group story begin over six years ago?
Manuel Palacio, Pirata Group’s co-founder, dined at the previous restaurant I worked at a few times. Hong Kong is small, and I bumped into him later after that night, asking him for a chat and a beer.
He told me I cooked one of the five best pasta dishes he’s ever eaten in his life. He conceptualised Pici to open later in 2016 and wanted me to open the restaurant with him.
In November 2016, only a week and a half after we opened TokyoLima, the first Pici location in Wan Chai opened its doors. Star Street was a nothing neighbourhood, but in the first few weeks, we had more than 60 people waiting in line for only 55 chairs in the restaurant. I stayed, and the rest is history.
What’s kept you buzzed and excited after six years working with Pirata Group? Why continue into your seventh year and beyond?
I have never done the same job at Pirata for more than nine months, from opening the first Pici location in Wan Chai, to opening a second [location], operating different brands, changing menus, conceptualising recipes. My job adapts and changes based on how we push our brand.
I’ve tended to spend less time in the kitchens and become a role of support for the larger group. I appreciate this position and want to continue to balance business decisions with food.
We interviewed Steen Puggaard, CEO of Pirata Group, last year as he joined the company. He mentioned his five-year plan is to expand the group’s portfolio to 100 restaurants regionally. How are you helping with this push to expand?
In many ways, be that franchises, new concepts, and joint ventures. A big part is standardising recipes and procedures to replicate. We’re starting to be big boys on the scene and increase our standards on all levels—chefs, cuisines, and restaurants.
We are proud with our three central cuisines, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. We will work toward expanding these in the next five years and growing in new directions that we previously haven’t in the last six, seven years.
Whether [it’s the] right time or right place, there are still cuisines that we haven’t explored yet that will come into our plan.
Already halfway done with 2023, what grand plans do you have to end this year with real success?
We are looking for venues, whether they be different concepts or expansions. We want to increase our manpower across the board. We’re lucky to have the people we work with. All the restaurants were born out of the brain and in the hands of our people.
Manuel once told me that every restaurant in the world has three things in common - four walls, tables, and chairs. The difference is the people you put inside. People are absolutely everything.
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