Authenticity is a fable told around the table at high-browed dinners, whose moral is to reassure both teller and listener that what they have on their plate, in their glass, under their feet or playing melodiously in the background lives up to its exotic billing.
What is impossible to authenticate is a feeling, and it is precisely feeling for which Michael White has been constantly searching in his extraordinary career.
It is that sensation that makes you stop, fork in hand, and note that you have just tasted something unquestionably new - something so delicious that its specific flavour will uniquely come to represent a particular place and a time for the rest of your life.
It was the need for feeling through food that sent the young Michael White, a raw but talented prep-chef at Chicago’s world-famous Italian restaurant Spiaggia, on a quest for the secrets of Italian cuisine that would take seven years. His first call was Imola in Bologna, where he trained at the side of legendary Italian chef Valentino Marcattilii in his kitchen at Ristorante San Domenico, whose founder Gianluigi Morini was also something of a father figure. What then followed was a journey across the country, cooking, eating and most of all learning about Italy’s rich culinary heritage.
Alongside an Italian wife, what White brought back with him was an encyclopaedic knowledge of Italy’s fiercely independent and proudly varied regional cuisine, and a lavishly endowed skill-set in its labour-intensive, ingredient dominated preparation.
His first port of call was where his Italian odyssey began, returning to Spiaggia in 2001 as Chef de Cuisine and immediately applying the beautiful simplicity that he had learnt by wrote in the heat of the Italian kitchen, to almost instantaneous acclaim. White then took his Italian cuisine, a deeply personal translation of everything he learnt with his Italian masters, to what is arguably the food capital of the world - New York.
His tenure as Executive Chef earned Fiamma Osteria a three-star review in the New York Times and brought White the first of his many personal accolades, when he was named best chef for 2002 by Esquire magazine.
White’s next move was to open Alto, a midtown homage to the earthy gusto of Italy’s northern cuisine, that had critics falling over themselves to laud and earned two Michelin Stars in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Guides. Along with Wall Street executive and investor, Ahmass Fakahany, he has also helmed the phenomenally successful Due Terre in New Jersey since its opening in 2007 and, in 2008, he opened its sister New Jersey restaurant, Due Mari, with equal success.
The cuisine of his wife’s region, Southern Italy, was the theme of White’s next venture, Convivio, which presented his capacity for Mediterranean fantasy in its full glory. The four course menu of masterfully fresh dishes that White created from often a mere handful of ingredients allowed each individual flavor, colour and texture the space to breathe and shine. Convivio went on to receive its own Michelin Star.
White’s culinary palette moved even further south for his third restaurant, as his Marea arrived on the fringes of Central Park. With it arrived a heaving catch commingling the rustic and exotic arts that this intuitively talented chef brought with him from afar, just as the dazzling array of seafood, which he is constantly developing and which has reeled in a phenomenal list of some of the city’s most influential diners.
Michael White displays an instinctive and fluent command of the defiantly parochial language of Italy’s regional cuisines from kitchen to plate, and none more so than in his deeply personal Osteria Morini. Opened in 2010, his tribute to his culinary homeland, the Emilia-Romagna region, this remarkable restaurant takes the name of Gianluigi Morini, owner of Ristorante San Domenico, the region’s acclaimed restaurant where White the chef was truly born.
With only a one-month difference, he opened his Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Ai Fiori - focused on the French Riviera and Liguria - on the new Setai Fifth Avenue hotel, his first step into the hotel dining scene.
White’s story so far is one defined by movement. The journey around Italy’s kitchens as a species of minstrel chef, his triumphant return to former stomping grounds, and the vibrantly alive culinary tour of his beloved Italy that he brought to New Yorkers with his restaurants all sum up those uniquely exotic backgrounds melding together in an incredible urban adventure - the story of New York itself.
The next logical movement, of course, involves the sharing of such a tantalising identity and its delicious fruits with those in foreign climes. And so it is that Al Molo, White’s latest project realised in tandem with Hong Kong’s high end hospitality firm Dining Concepts, comes to Hong Kong’s quintessential leisure destination Ocean Terminal, where a whole new metropolis of cosmopolitan diners will be able to experience Michael White’s Big Italy.
What awaits is a sumptuous combination of White’s richly varied palette of Italian signatures - from exquisite hand crafted pasta, rustic fired classic pizza, to the revitalising seafood with which he has made so much of his name in so short a time.
A breathtakingly modern design, realised in note perfect style by the firms AvroKO & Zanghellini Holt, leads diners from a sense of intimate homeliness by the open pizza oven, through the luxurious ambience of the mid section, to the al fresco dining area. Looking out over the majestic views of the Victoria Harbour and the world famous Hong Kong cityscape, Al Molo presents truly wonderful food in a truly spectacular setting.
An extraordinary story behind an extraordinary talent, therefore; one that describes a man moved by feeling, and a culture registered in the flashing synapses fired by a truly fine meal.
- Benjamin Stewart
Michael White´s Restaurants
Address: 400 5th Avenue
New York, 10018
Tel: 212 613 8660 Reserve Online
Photo Credit: Evan Sung
Address: 240 Central Park South
New York, 10019
Tel: 212 582 5100 Reserve Online
Photo Credit: Daniel Krieger
Address: 218 Lafayette Street
New York, 10012
Tel: 212 965 8777 Reserve Online
Photo Credit: Evan Sung
Address: 78 Albany Street
New Brunswick, NJ, 08901
Tel: 732 296 1600 Reserve Online
Osteria Morini NJ
Address: 107 Morristown Road
Bernardsville, NJ, 07924
Tel: 908 221 0040 Reserve Online
Address: Ocean Terminal, Harbour City
Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Tel: 852 2730 7900
Address: 160 2nd Avenue
New York, 10003
Tel: 212 432 1600
Photo Credit: Noah Fecks
Address: 206 Spring Street
New York, 10012
Tel: 212 334 3320
Address: 225 West Broadway
New York, 10013
Tel: 646 692 4943
Address: 1167 Madison Avenue
New York, 10028
Tel: 212 249 0444
Convivio´s Photo Credit: Melissa Hom
Michael White/ Al Molo