Valeria Piccini on a trip to Hong Kong: words and dishes from an extraordinary journey

Valeria Piccini on a trip to Hong Kong: words and dishes from an extraordinary journey

We attended the first Gems & Pearl dinner in Hong Kong organized by Andrea Petrini with Angelo Aglianò: the protagonist was Valeria Piccini.

Valeria Piccini is a great cook . Her restaurant is famous thanks to the 2 Michelin stars she has won over the years.two italian chefs join in a 4 hands dinner in hong kongSo famous that he redesigned the map of Italy for gourmets around the globe, inserting a small town of 500 scarce souls: Montemerano, in the province of Grosseto. Here is Da Caino . Valeria is self-taught, stubborn, ambitious, maternal, courageous, curious, enterprising, very talented and is the first Italian woman invited to Hong Kong for a series of dinners at the Ritz-Carlton, together with the resident chef of Tosca di Angelo, Angelo Aglianó . Dinners coordinated and organized by the most important influencer in the world of food, the foodglobaltrotter Andrea Petrini , father of Gelinaz!

Even Angelo Agliano is a great cook . Released from the stables – among others – of the great French chef Robuchon , he has been out of his Sicily for many years now, dedicated to bringing the gastronomic tradition of the Bel Paese (with great French techniques) around Europe and especially in Asia. . Inside the incredible Ritz-Carlton hotel in Hong Kong , a sci-fi skyscraper with seven restaurants including a two Michelin-starred Chinese cuisine, our Angelo offers an Italian menu adapted to the taste of the local and passing public: greedy, refined, intelligent. He also has his red star well placed on his chest.

I interviewed them on the occasion of a four-handed dinner that was held right in the Tosca, in which we had the opportunity to taste a unique and unrepeatable menu, the result of the collaboration – very successful – between the two Italian chefs. Before showing you the dishes, here are the answers they gave to me and Ivan Brincat of Food & Wine Gazette, the other journalist called to witness this extraordinary joint-venture.

The Interviews

Valeria, have you ever been to Asia before this occasion?

How did it seem to you?
Well, I certainly wasn’t used to it. I come from a country of 500 souls with chickens, I mean, including chickens. It sure is a bit chaotic for me.

What was your first impression of Angelo Aglianó, the chef of the Tosca you cooked with here?
Angelo is a wonderful person, wonderful, I had already understood this when we spoke for the brief from Italy. He was extremely attentive and helpful on all my requests. With him it was a perfect collaboration. This is not always the case. I also happened to have to work with colder chefs, less available and with the stench under their nose.

So you’re used to doing these outings to meet other chefs and cook abroad.
Well when I can I go there, yes. They are experiences that leave something behind. These are important exchanges especially for me, a self-taught cook and mostly always remained in Montemerano. It is a way to update myself, to also remain close to today’s world. Studying alone is not always enough.

How does it work in these cases: do you collaborate with the other chef or do you bring your own dishes to make them known?
It is not always the same. Andrea Petrini strongly wanted us to collaborate on dishes created together and so it was. I brought a couple of my things, a symbol of the restaurant, but above all we created together and we inspired each other. There were Asian influences and ingredients, for example.

Angelo’s brigade has many Taiwanese and Chinese guys: how did you find yourself with them and what differences are there with the Italian brigades?
The brigade here is very much set up according to French rules, also because Angelo comes from that school there. I am more like a mother with her children , despite the fact that the roles are always respected.

Who did you choose to bring here with you on this experience at Angelo’s Tosca?
I brought Guglielmo Chiarapini, the sous-chef who has been with me for 4 and a half years and takes care of the batch of appetizers and first courses. I can not do without him and not even the other, Andrea Bertolino, game leader of the second. They are the best.

A few words about your kitchen, when you are at home. Do you consider yourself a traditional cook?
I live in the countryside, it is difficult for me to keep up with the changes in world gastronomy but there is also the fact that those who come to Montemerano want a kitchen that uses authentic ingredients and that is my cuisine. We use modern techniques but we are linked to the territory in which we find ourselves and to our fantastic producers. This will never change. However, I am very attached to traditions and what I always say to young people is this: the techniques are within everyone’s reach but we must be sure that they do not ruin the raw material.

Angelo, what was the first impression that Valeria made on you?
Look, the first impression was exciting and touching. I have never had the pleasure of being so in contact with a female figure that represents a mother, it even reminds me of the women in my family thanks to whom the passion for cooking was born. Then, getting to know her better in these 3 days, she became even more of a friendly, intimate figure. Absurd the speed with which we felt in tune with her and her boys.

How do you find her as a cook? Do you have an approach more linked to Italian traditions than yours?
I was afraid she didn’t share some modern visions of my cooking, maybe some techniques she might not know, but the amazing thing is that I’m learning from her, not the other way around. It reminded me how important the Italian tradition is to me, even if here in Asia we have to go a little towards the local taste, different from ours in some respects.

Your story as a cook?
I had been working since my graduation years in Syracuse. After school, the most important experience was at the Four Seasons in Milan with Sergio Mei. After Milan I went to London and there I had Alberico Penati as my mentor. It was he who woke me up, who made me stronger both in the kitchen and in life. In 2002 I arrived in Paris and picked up Il Carpaccio del Royal Monceau. Here we became the best Italian restaurant in France by earning a Michelin star, and I always met Robuchon here.

How did it go?
It was unbelievable. He came to Carpaccio to celebrate 60 years. I obviously had to change my jacket four times from the excitement I was sweating away. Dinner went well, he liked my risotto very much. Today I can say that knowing him and then going to work with him changed the course of my life. At 36, after many experiences outside Italy following the great chef, with his approval, I started walking on my own legs. I first opened my own restaurant in Taipei and then I returned to Hong Kong to open Locanda di Angelo, a restaurant where you can still find me every Sunday today. The rest of the time I spend here as chef at la Tosca di Angelo.

Let’s go back to today: how did the preparation of dinner with Valeria go?
Very well, I even changed one of my classic dishes, letting myself be influenced by her.

In what sense?
Valeria has proposed her most famous dish on the menu, Ravioli with cheese and pears. Tasting it, I had the idea of ​​adding the apple to my Fregola with crab too. I wouldn’t have done it without her. The eel dish, on the other hand, was born from the work between the two brigades. It was great to study the different possible solutions together, a great experience.

Do you miss Sicily?
Much. The more I go on, the more I miss it. When I come back I find my parents a little older than the previous time. Living outside you realize that you have not shared with your family as much as you would have liked. But since this year I have decided that I will come back more often, I have to do it. At least twice a year.

You are out of Italy and, let’s face it, it is also a pain. But what is the added value that an Italian chef can bring to Asia?
Sincerity, authenticity. Any Italian chef with a minimum of talent has something more to convey. That magic where I can’t always explain how much pepper or how much salt you need to add. Here the kids would like to follow written rules, without ever putting their hand or their instinctive sensitivity on the plate. Without ever taking risks. This is what an Italian cook abroad can do: teach that, beyond the technique, there is the heart.

3 words to describe you and 3 to describe Valeria
For me? I would say sincere, passion, ambition. For Valeria it’s easy: ambassador of Italian cuisine, mother and very true.


Four-handed dinners , as we know, are almost never something memorable. The guest chef is often uncomfortable outside his kitchen; the host chef, partly to meet the needs of the other and partly to invade the usual spaces, does not express himself to the fullest. But with the premises that emerged from the interviews, with the special relationship that was created in a few days between Angelo and Valeria, the dinner risked being of the highest level, and so it was. After a fun amuse-bouche of puffed corn mousse with Port Reduction and Foie Gras , and Angelo Aglianó ‘s Hokkaido Scallop with Salmoriglio with Ricci and Caviar , the first course actually created by the two chefs has arrived.

Mandarin eel and celery . The eel found here in Hong Kong is super sweet and has a really nice texture. Scented with mandarin and accompanied by the sapidity and freshness of celery, it has become a remarkable appetizer here.

But Angelo’s first course in collaboration with Valeria is what left us really excited. A Royal Crab Fregola Corona with its Bisque and Mixed Herbs.  The apple added in the race and inspired by Piccini was a guessed touch for a dish with a strong Italian tradition executed to perfection.

There is little to add on the Ravioli with Cacio e Pere with Valeria ‘s Beetroot sauce . There is a literature on this dish born from a local saying, which cannot be more Italian: “ You don’t have to let the farmer know how good the cheese is with pears “. Symbol of the restaurant in Montemerano, the ravioli made Kongers and tourists go crazy . And with good reason.

Before the desserts made in sequence by Angelo ( Freshness of Almonds and Pistachio ) and Valeria ( Orange and Olive Oil Emulsion with Goat Milk and Pepper Ice Cream ), both delicious, we tasted the Confit Pig with an infusion of Winter Vegetables , perhaps the dish on which we fought the most. It took a lot of effort to get the necessary crunchiness out of the rind, but the collaboration between the brigades brought home the result flawlessly, closing a dinner of the highest level. A special mention goes to the Tosca dining room staff at the Ritz-Carlton: kind, thoughtful, prepared. Well done.

That’s not all. Andrea Petrini and Angelo Aglianó will continue to create this series of dinners entitled Gems & Pearl – An Italian Culinary Journey  until September 2020. The two will invite  great cooks  to Hong Kong to bring some Italian haute cuisine to Asia, relying solely on talent and the generosity of great women of our national scene. After Piccini, in fact, it will be the turn of Antonia Klugmann de l’Argine in Vencò (January 2020), Isa Mazzocchi of La Palta in Borgonovo Val Tidone (March 2020), Viviana Varese di Viva in Milan (June 2020) and Martina Caruso of Signum di Salina to close. We will follow with interest and passion.

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