Ragusa is the winner in Shanghai

Talking with Riccardo La Perna, Umberto Bombana’s executive chef in Shanghai, 2 Michelin stars

05-12-2016

Riccardo La Perna, born in Ragusa in 1978, executive chef at restaurant Ottoemezzo Shanghai. The latter is an important piece in the Chinese mosaic of Umberto Bombana, from Bergamo, whom we’ll celebrate at Identità Milano on 4th-6th March 2017. The restaurant in Shanghai conquered two Michelin stars in the first edition of the local Red guide, presented a few weeks ago

«Gli aranci olezzano sui verdi margini, cantan le allodole tra i mirti in fior, tempo è si mormori da ognuno il tenero canto che i palpiti raddoppia al cor» [Oranges blossoming, myrtle and jessamine, mingle their fragrance with incense of flowers. Morning now murmuring, hearts that were slumbering Wake with the dawning with songs, as do ours ]. Here in Shanghai the news of the two stars to Riccardo La Perna, born in Sicily in 1978, and his Ottoemezzo Shanghai, “is whispered” like in the initial song of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.

He’s the only Italian to be awarded in town and the acknowledgement joins the three stars to Ottoemezzo in Hong Kong and the star to the outpost in Macao. Which, adding the reputable nice Opera Bombana in Beijing and Ciak, also in Hong Kong, create one of the most established clusters of Italian fine dining outside the national borders. Perhaps the most established of all.

Yet we are very distant from the militarised kitchens of so many other mostly French culinary battleships, which we’ve often mentioned in this website, with a grimpeur running away and the peloton doing the teamwork at the back. Umberto Bombana, born in Bergamo, with a passion for mountain cheese, risotto, white truffle and meat as tender as butter has left complete freedom to the chef from Comiso (Ragusa), with a magic touch for fresh tuna, a passion for oil from Chiaramonte («the Burgundy of oil»), a visceral attachment to Pachino tomatoes, to the beef from Modica or to pastries and sorbets with pistachios, mulberries and almonds.

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Umberto Bombana (second to the right) together with La Perna, at the presentation of the Michelin Guide Shanghai

Umberto Bombana (second to the right) together with La Perna, at the presentation of the Michelin Guide Shanghai

«Three years ago I got married at Locanda Don Serafino. And when I received two stars, one of the first to congratulate himself with me was Ciccio [Sultano] who called me from Ragusa». Indeed Riccardo La Perna may be considered as a foreign outpost of the “school of Ragusa”: «I believe chefs like Ciccio, Pino Cuttaia or Vincenzo Candiano are heroes in that they were capable of expressing their art in a land that has marvellous resources and beauties but where it’s hard to do business».

Ironically, Riccardo left following one of these heroes: «It was in 1998, I was just 19 and worked with Ciccio in a trattoria. One day he tells me he’s leaving, ‘I’m going to New York to work with Bastianich. That day I realised I could experience the world». So Riccardo works at Sheraton in Bologna, at Grand Hotel in Rimini, JW Marriot in Capri, ParkHyatt in Milan and finally at Sadler’s. With Sadler in Milan, first, and then in Beijing, China. Three years with the Milanese master.

Then one night in Beijing Mr Three Stars Bombana discovers his cuisine. «After that, Umberto came back to visit me one night when I was working at the Ritz Carlton in Shanghai. He invited me to sit at his table and in front of a glass of bubbles he offered me a job».  This is how Ottoemezzo Shanghai became a temple not only for risotto, truffle and Tajima, but also scampi carpaccio, blue lobster, fresh tuna and contrasts with citrus fruits and very fresh vegetables.

Pan seared Australian mayura beef shoulder

Pan seared Australian mayura beef shoulder

Any local-inspired digression, perhaps to please the Chinese palate? «No way… I’m a cooking Taliban. There’s no fusion, digression, or mixing. My guests are half Chinese and half Westerners. We offer the best in real Italian cuisine. The oil is either Rollo or Cutrera. Tomatoes are from Agromonte; we make our own bread, boulangerie and pastries, as well as the pasta, except for the durum wheat pasta, from Casa Gentile. Putting some products aside, which it’s not always easy to find, such as lobster or foie gras, or precious meat (where distribution in China has rather strict rules) everything here is homemade, Italian and rigorous». In fact, it is Sicilian! And this could only be the case given there’s a painter of Sicilian carts in his family.

«O che bel mestiere fare il carrettiere andar di qua e di la!» [Happy is his calling, Richest treasures hauling, As he goes here and there] sings Alfio the teamster in the Cavalleria. And nobody in the La Perna family was a cook or worked in restaurants: his father is a worker, his mother a health clerk, «but we come from a religious family, my grandmother was a Mather Superior at the Orsoline nuns in Siracusa, and you know… what they say about clergy and food... we’ve always had good food in my family!».

So today we’re celebrating: Italy abroad (see also the three stars to Paolo Casagrande given a few days ago); Sicily; the Ottoemezzo signature; and Riccardo La Perna. As in the title of Vizzini’s chorus: «Viva il vino spumeggiante, nel bicchiere scintillante, come il riso dell’amante, mite infonde il giubilo… beviam, rinnovisi la giostra…».  [See the wine, as foaming whitely In the glass it sparkles lightly, Like a lover smiling brightly, Gently whisp'ring words that bless!]


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Approfondimenti golosi dalla Cina e dall'Estremo Oriente a cura del nostro inviato Claudio Grillenzoni