Cucina’s Chef de Cuisine Andrea Oreste Delzanno wears a bright smile and exudes a warmth typical to Italians. This might have something to do with the way he grew up. His native region of Piedmont is where many celebrated Italian food products such as truffle, wine, chocolate and hazelnut are produced. Born in the countryside around the picturesque mountains and rivers, Delzanno holds a lot of childhood food memories close to his heart.
“We had the freshest eggs since young. My grandma grew fruits like figs and apricots naturally. I even ran to the mountains to pick mushrooms or caught fresh trout from the river. The whole family came together to cook on Sunday, enjoying the great food and great company.”
Finding His Calling
Delzanno made up his mind to pursue a career as a chef when he was 10 years old. At 14, he entered the professional kitchen for the first time and two years later, he graduated from culinary school. He says it is one of the best decisions he has ever made. He is also grateful for having met his mentor Corrado Michelazzo at age 20, as he taught him a wide range of cooking techniques. More than that, Michaelazzo broadened his vision and changed his life by taking him to Asia. After working in Shanghai for a while, Delzanno moved to Hong Kong to start a new chapter.
Speaking from his experience in the two Asian cities, the chef observes that Hong Kong diners have come to embrace traditional Italian food a lot more since the early days.
“Hong Kong people travel abroad frequently. They have a very similar palate to Italians when it comes to the consistency of pasta and risotto. Furthermore, it’s very easy to find the best ingredients from around the world in Hong Kong. For example, it’s convenient to get Parma ham, olive oil or truffle here — it’s very important because when you want to create authentic flavours, you need to rely on the ingredients. After more than 10 years, Hong Kong people have gotten even more familiar with the Italian culinary culture. It has become a must for many diners to have an aperitif before the meal and some cheeses afterwards.”
Cucina imports 90% of its ingredients from Italy or other countries, but discerning diners will notice that Delzanno’s dishes carry a hint of Hong Kong.
“We always make authentic Italian food in terms of flavour, but there are some Hong Kong influences too. For example, har gow is made with either large chunks or even whole pieces of shrimp, and that gives the dumplings very good texture. It inspired me to improve the Italian ravioli. Traditionally, the filling is minced meat. But I changed it to chunks of shrimp. The texture is great and the flavour stays the same.”
Besides that, the chef often goes to his local colleagues for their opinion. He wants to know what ingredients local diners like to eat and considers using them in his kitchen.
Moreover, Delzanno is a fan of the locally cultivated vegetables. Happy with their quality, he visits the farms in Hong Kong from time to time and purchases some of the products he finds there for Italian cooking. Though these greens might not be identical to what Italy offers, the restaurant is open to adopting fresher, native ingredients.
Delzanno emphasises that a chef needs to keep learning. To a younger generation of chefs, he does not only teach culinary skills, but also encourages them to keep up with the emerging trends. He often invites other chefs from Italy’s MICHELIN-starred restaurants to cook at Cucina. Apart from giving customers a sense of novelty, it allows his apprentices to watch the masters at work and learn something new. Just like his mentor Corrado Michelazzo who took him under his wing selflessly, Delzanno regards transmitting the art of Italian cooking as his mission.
Why did Delzanno choose to stay in Hong Kong for so long? For him, it is more than a place to flex his culinary muscle. This metropolis is home to the chef in a very real way: he met his wife there and they have a son and a daughter. In his free time, Delzanno likes to hike, ride bicycles and enjoy dim sum with his family. He says he gets the most inspiration for cooking when his mind is totally relaxed. Whichever way he looks at it, his time in Hong Kong has been nothing short of brilliant.
This story is originally written by Emily Tong and translated by Vincent Leung.