Chef Umberto Bombana, 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana | Yes, Chef!


Yes, Chef! Umberto Bombana, Chef and Co-owner of 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana

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, Instagrammability, and added hunger. Yes, Chef! features the region’s chefs' stories of love and labour in kitchens that has made some of our restaurants the next big thing in Asia.

Titled “King of Truffles” internationally, Chef Umberto Bombana has cured a living legacy as one of the world’s most commercially and culinary successful chefs, managing 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, the world’s only three-Michelin-starred Italian restaurant operating outside of Italy.

Hailing from Bergamo, Italy, Chef Bombana earned his experience at Centro di Formazione Alberghiera in Milan, before venturing to the acclaimed Rex II Ristorante in Los Angeles in 1983. His Hong Kong story began 30 years ago in a position managing Toscana at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, before earning his title as “Worldwide Ambassador of the White Truffle” by the Piedmontese Regional Enoteca Cavour.

In 2010, he opened 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana. Only 11 months after the restaurant opened, Chef Bombana earned his two Michelin stars with a third the following year. Acclaimed as the best Italian restaurant outside of his home nation, The Beat Asia spoke with the culinary master about his connection with an established international career and building a gastronomical monopoly in Hong Kong.

Chef Umberto Bombana, 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana | Yes, Chef!

Morning Chef, let’s begin with asking you this question. What is your relationship with food and how does it reflect in your career?

Food is everything to me. It’s my life, my career, and what I love to do. I appreciate the ingredients and produce, how everything is grown, how meat is raised and produced, making sure it is done ethically.

My grandmother was a wonderful cook, and she inspired me. Then as a teenager, I earned pocket money helping at a very good restaurant we lived next to. Cooking was very natural to me.

Now in the kitchen, I am motivated to treat ingredients with care to create great flavours for customers. If they enjoy what we make, it is a pleasure for us too. I want to do the best I can, celebrating the cuisine of my culture and imparting my creativity into it.

In your former life in Bergamo, Italy and Los Angeles working as a chef, what prompted your move to the Hong Kong shores to cook?

I enjoyed working in all those other places, but I loved cooking abroad. The opportunity came up to come to Hong Kong in 1993 and open Toscana in the old Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Central. It was a new adventure in Asia where I had never been before, and I knew I wanted to explore.

I didn't think too much about it and said yes. Obviously, it was one of the best decisions in my life. I think it’s more fun to create Italian food outside of Italy.

In the creation of 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, one of the world’s most famous Italian restaurants, is the restaurant your most important achievement?

It certainly is one of the best things I did. I am proud of Otto e Mezzo Bombana. It was a very personal project for me, and it is the restaurant most representing me. I feel fulfilled. Is it the most important achievement? Maybe my family is more important. I am proud of my children. I am proud of the team I have and chefs who worked for me.

Cooking modern Italian cuisine under Octavium and 8 ½, how do you innovate the food you create?

I don’t know. Everything inspires me. But I believe you have to evolve in life. Every time I see great produce or ingredients, I want to cook with it. I might imagine a dozen ways to prepare it. It’s my passion to explore and play with the flavours and tastes. I think it is important to be creative and come up with new ideas to make food enjoyable.

At Octavium, I don’t cook there, but share my vision with the executive chefs there; Roland Schuller — who is also a good friend — and the terrific Bjoern Alexander, and they have their own great dishes. They also have the same passion for cooking.

Chef Umberto Bombana, 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana | Yes, Chef!

What does the title “King of White Truffles” mean to you?

Of course, I am honoured, but it is not something I would give myself. Because I work on the charity auctions for truffles. The Piedmontese Regional Enoteca Cavour appointed this title to me, I would never call myself the “King of Truffles”.

Perhaps I am a good representative for the white truffle ingredient, because I wanted to introduce this fantastic, prized item to my customers so more people can appreciate it. Every year, I look forward to the tuber magnatum arriving. It is how I know another year has gone by when the autumn truffles arrive. As chefs, we mark time by the seasons passing.

Beyond the Michelin-Star awards, recognition regionally and personal titles claimed, why do you continue doing what you do?

Because it is my passion. I love to cook. I enjoy serving people good food. The awards and recognitions are very nice, but to see people enjoy my food is the best pleasure I can have.

Thanks for speaking with us, Chef!

My dearest pleasure, Rubin.

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