Chef Marco De Boni, Chef de Cuisine of Mandarin Oriental, Macau
Hailing from Italy, chef Marco De Boni lived in the UK for a long time and Macau is his first experience in Asia. However, this isn’t the first time he’s come across different cultures: besides having lived in such a multicultural country, part of his family has Chinese origins! He’s Mandarin Oriental, Macau’s new Chef de Cuisine, and plans to bring his innovations to the menu of Vida Rica Restaurant, as well as the hotel’s bar menu.
We sat down with Chef Marco De Boni and got to know all about mixing cultures in the form of spices and flavors, how it is to work for the hospitality industry, and much more! Read on and find out why Vida Rica Restaurant is a to-go spot and which are some of chef Marco’s signature dishes there.
First of all, welcome to Macau, and congratulations on your new position at Vida Rica Restaurant! How do you feel Vida Rica Restaurant and Mandarin Oriental, Macau stand out in the hospitality industry?
I believe that Vida Rica Restaurant and the Mandarin Oriental, Macau are unique places. Vida Rica Restaurant is a spot where you can enjoy a sumptuous meal and also enjoy an elegant dinner, in opulently decorated surroundings. It’s relaxing as well. Mandarin Oriental, Macau offers different venues, like the Lobby Lounge, where I also contribute to, in terms of the kitchen team.
What do you believe you’ll bring to Mandarin Oriental, Macau?
First of all, my experience, which is mainly because I traveled a lot and worked in several places. I believe my international background is also important, as well as my Italian touch. I like taking care of the guests, so they can enjoy and have a good time.
How did you start your career?
I started in Milan, where I had my very first professional experience after graduating from cooking school there as well. I started working at Four Seasons Milan, which was also my first time in the hospitality industry, namely a five-star hotel. From there, I worked in some other places around Italy when I was 16 and 17, then, after Four Seasons, I worked for Bulgari Milan, Shangri-La in London, and Palazzo Versace in Dubai. In my earlier years, I also worked in Copenhagen for an Italian-concept restaurant.
The food offered at Mandarin Oriental, Macau used to be more focused on Chinese flavors. Is there a better balance between cuisines in terms of what you offer?
Yes, there’s a better balance. We–the chefs responsible for the Chinese creations–are trying, as much as possible, to work together side by side, to create a menu and bring new dishes to it that gives our guests a wider range of choices. The goal is to give them the freedom to choose whatever they want. At Vida Rica Restaurant, you can have a little bit of both Western and Chinese. We’re aiming to not have restrictions in that sense and encourage guests to share Western and Chinese dishes on one table.
So a group of people can come and some can have Chinese dishes, while others can choose Western food?
Yes. Actually, this is what Vida Rica Restaurant and Macau are all about; this wedding between cultures, between the east and west. I actually love Chinese food, and that extends to other Asian cuisines actually, partly because of my wife. She’s half English, half Filipino. However, her English family’s roots go back to the first generation of Chinese from Guangzhou that emigrated to the north of England, Liverpool. When we are back in the UK, we might have an English breakfast and then Chinese dim sum for lunch, and a mix of cuisines for dinner (laughs).
So would you say you were already much into other cultures even before arriving in Macau?
Yes. I like trying new things and having this combination.
Did you always want to be Chef Marco De Boni?
Yes, I think so. Even when I was very little, I used to tell my dad that when I grew up I wanted to be a chef, a cooker. And, as a matter of fact, I did become one (laughs).
What are your fondest memories of food, being around the kitchen?
Definitely, making pasta with my dad, that’s one of my strongest memories. It was usually during the weekends when I learned how to make pasta dough from him. He used to work in a factory all his life, but his dream was always to work in a kitchen, to cook; he was so passionate about food. He never got that chance, but surely passed that passion on to me; the making of food together, that’s one of my first memories. Another one of my fondest memories is the sound of the kitchen table slamming into the wall when you made the dough. I could hear it from my bed (laughs).
What three things you value more in the kitchen?
First, my team; then, the product and the respect for the product. And finally, cleanliness!
What do you mean by “respect for the product”?
This is very “chef’s related”. It’s taking care of the products and making sure there’s no waste and that its flavor stays true. Food is something that comes from labor and we have to respect that. Behind the potatoes on the plate, it has come a long way and took hard work to grow, harvest, and ultimately prepare.
In your opinion, what’s a great dish made of?
It’s when you can see coming it together; when the dish is complete and you feel satisfied. From a chef’s perspective, it’s about the balance between fat, acid, sweetness, and saltiness.
Do you also cook at home?
Yes, especially during off days or weekends. We (my wife and I) often cook different dishes because we like to experiment and try different things. We like making comfort food which I believe is unique and differs from family to family. In my case, it’s pizza with beef tomato–which is a Chinese dish we learned from my wife’s grandmother.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I believe it comes from different things, in different ways. First of all, from the product and the way we make the product stand out; I often consider the seasons to find inspiration as well. I try finding, as much as possible, the best produce during each season, mostly from Europe because that’s where we buy most of our products.
What is something that you must have in your kitchen?
Good olive oil and especially during summer, tomatoes; fresh and juicy. The ones that take me back to when I picked them at my family house’s garden. The vegetables definitely give me inspiration. I had a lot of vegetables and fruits growing at home as a kid and in stark contrast, now I’m living in Taipa in a house with a very tiny balcony, where I managed to have a tomato plant that I really hope bears fruit, but I also have a pumpkin plant that’s slowly growing.
Do you have any advice for those pursuing a career in the culinary scene?
Be passionate and persistent; try different things and have different types of culinary experiences at the earliest stage possible so you’re able to choose your own path and what you’d like to do in the future.
Do you mean international work experience?
Yes, and also in the fine dining area, some more relaxed ones perhaps in five-star hotels. Smaller stand alone restaurant experience is also good. You can find lots of these in Macau, where people enjoy warm meals with their families. Seasonal experiences are also great; if you have the chance to work in the mountains during the winter season and summer season someplace else. You can make a great living with this job, but you have to choose the segment you want to work on.
What was your first impression of Macau when you arrived?
Everything was shut down because of the virus outbreak, but I felt very welcomed, especially by my colleagues here at Mandarin Oriental, Macau. People gave me advice and I also had the chance to focus a lot on the job itself because I had the time to do so. I stayed in the hotel for the first couple of weeks and we’ve now moved to Taipa, so I also meet a lot of locals and new people.
So how are you enjoying Macau?
I love it and I’m very glad to be here. On our free time, my wife and I really enjoy exploring the hiking trails with our dog. We like walking around and exploring the city too. I do enjoy running and there are beautiful paths, especially in Taipa and around it. Every week I try to find something new, a new side of the city.
Are there any restaurants in Macau that you like to go to for a nice meal?
Have you had the chance to try Macanese food yet?
Not yet. Just Portuguese, Cantonese as well, and others.
What are your plans for Vida Rica Restaurant in the future?
We’re looking to rejuvenate Vida Rica Restaurant; to keep our usual customers but also attract new guests and also followers. We’re having a nice promotion featuring great products and simple, enjoyable meals for people to try.
We want to distance ourselves from the fine dining concept because it has an air of stiffness where there’s a lot of plating, but not so much focus on the flavors. For the Chinese dishes we have, I think they’re amazing on their own as they are; this is proof you can come here, have delicious food without all the fuss (laughs).
Are you excited about working with new ingredients?
Yes, for sure. What’s interesting about it is the way we try bringing them in; using Western techniques in products that are from other countries. I’ve worked with some of these before, but I’m excited to do so again, especially when it comes to vegetables. Cooking is an art form so it’s wonderful to get this chance to work with new ingredients!
Have you ever dreamt of opening your own restaurant?
Not really, especially not at this stage of my career. I really enjoy working at luxury property hotels and I like to take care of the customers from the restaurant, as well as the hotel guests who are having breakfast, family dinners or even those who are ordering off the food menu of Vida Rica Bar.
Do you lend your expertise to the items on the in-room dining menu as well?
Yes. Our kitchen provides the food for room service, but also for Vida Rica Bar and of course, Vida Rica Restaurant. We’re adding some new things to the in-room dining menu as well so stay tuned.
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