Chef Michael White is known as the “King of Italian cooking” in New York, where he has four acclaimed restaurants, including the two Michelin-starred Marea, and one-star Ai Fiori. He opened Hong Kong’s Al Molo Italian restaurant at Ocean Terminal six years ago, and he sat down for a chat during a recent visit.
How did a guy from Wisconsin end up being a specialist in Italian food?
The choice growing up in America in the 70s was either bad Cantonese food or Italian. Italian food is very much something that I grew up going to dinner to have – so that’s really how I kind of got the bug right away. Then I went to college and was studying and decided I wanted to become a chef. When I told my father, who was banker, that I wanted to be a chef, he said, “That’s fantastic, but how are you going to make a living?” That’s when there was no Food TV or anything like that – it wasn’t a very fashionable job then. You think it’s fashionable now, but it’s still a blue-collar job.
Fast forward 20 years and your dad must be pretty happy how it all turned out. But what made you decide to open in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is a hub. The simple fact is that there are thousands of expats here, and business travellers too, as it’s a business centre for New York and vice versa. This is a great way to enter into the Asian market. Also, I can get everything here that I need for my type of cooking. In fact, there are certain aspects of the Italian kitchen that I can do better here; certain salumi can’t be brought into America, for example, but here they come straight from Italy.
Have you noticed a change in Hong Kong’s restaurant scene over time?
There are just so many more restaurants, with a huge turnover. We’ve been here six years and that seems an eternity. Things are definitely much more adventurous in Hong Kong. In America, you order a salad and have a chitchat; here, everybody orders at the same time, banquet style, and when you order, you order everything – an osso buco, a pasta and so on.
What do you like most about the food scene in Hong Kong?
It offers everything. The food is one of the bright beacons of this city; good food is very accessible at every price point. I like to eat dim sum when I’m here. And I like to go to Lung King Heen restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel, or to Yat Lok for roost goose.
What would you recommend people try in Hong Kong for a memorable food experience (besides Al Molo!)?
You should definitely eat in Central at one of the old Cantonese restaurants from the 1950s – it’s a very cool experience. The China Club is so cool inside and very authentic. And you should also go into the Mandarin Oriental and go upstairs to Man Wah restaurant – it’s red and plush, with black marble.
Al Molo Ristorante Italiano
Shop G63, G/F, Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
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