On February 21, Italian chef Umberto Bombana accepted his Lifetime Achievement award from the Asia’s 50 Best academy in Bangkok. Ahead of the event Charmaine Mok, Editorial Director of Food & Wine, sat down with him to talk not about his successes, but his missteps—and how they led to where he is today.
In life, we do some things right, some things wrong, and a lot of things that we shouldn’t be doing. But at some point, you learn to realise when something is not right for you.
For me, maybe I became a chef a little bit too young. And when you are young, you’re very anxious to do everything, and that’s when you make mistakes. But I also think that making the mistake is part of evolving. You evolve by understanding what you should do next—by reinventing yourself. That’s when you become alive again.
"I think that making the mistake is part of evolving. You evolve by understanding what you should do next—by reinventing yourself."
When I was 24 I worked in California, and I wanted to do so much.I didn’t understand what people really wanted to eat. I was trying to express too much—when it’s really the basics and the understanding of the product that is more important.
I had an ego—I was also too eager to do my own thing without considering what it meant to be a part of a team. You need to manage how to work and motivate and help people in order to grow a successful business.
Sometimes, you have to stop and take a look at yourself. The best teacher will always be yourself. We all have great mentors and supporters, but I think the first person you have to blame if something is not right is yourself. You really need to follow your heart and work hard.
"We all have great mentors and supporters, but I think the first person you have to blame if something is not right is yourself."
If I could talk to my former self, I would share everything I know—how to make things, how to build something, how to build a team. How to respect the product. How to dress ingredients. How to create dishes that really make sense. That, I could do. But if somebody doesn’t want to hear it, it’s a waste of time as well. In the end, you have to make your own mistakes. And if you’re smart enough, you’ll move forward in life.
Today, my advice is to respect the ingredient, do it right, don’t do shortcuts and keep clean and proper. To do good food, you have to have the best ingredients, which is like using the best grapes to make the best wine. Now, every chef will tell you the same thing, but sometimes we forget this. Actually, it’s very simple. You don’t have to be a genius to get it. Simplicity is the key to everything.
Otto e Mezzo, Shop 202, 2/F Alexandra House, 5-17 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2537 8859