Ando Chef Agustin Balbi's Secret Ingredient Ups the Umami Ante
Chef Agustin Balbi, Haku alum, opened Ando with Jia Group earlier this month. At Ando, Balbi, who hails from Argentina, presents a cuisine infused with elements derived from his Italian and Spanish roots alongside influences and premium seasonal ingredients from Japan.
Balbi’s influences and inspirations are showcased throughout the Ando menu—particularly in dishes such as Sin Lola, the signature rice caldoso dish prepared with Japanese rice and cooked using a technique he learned from his grandmother.
We spoke with Balbi about his favourite ingredients and comfort foods, and how he incorporates citrus fruits to elevate the umami of so many of his signature dishes.
What’s your favourite local Hong Kong ingredient?
To choose only one ingredient will be extremely difficult since there are many great ones here, but if I must choose only one, it would definitely be seafood. Hong Kong has an abundance of amazing seafood throughout the entire year. One fish I really like in particular is the threadfin during the winter season. I enjoy working with it because of its marbled meat and distinctive flavour; it's packed with flavour and has a beautiful texture as well.
What’s one ingredient that can immediately elevate a dish? How would you use it?
For me that ingredient would be citrus fruits. My favourites are sudachi and kabosu––both Japanese but I love that all citrus fruits elevate the umami of the dish and add a nice, fresh feel to it. I particularly love using the zest, but depending on the dish a few drops of gently squeezed juice will work just as well too. I learned to use them while I was working for Cuisines Michel Troisgros in Tokyo. Their cuisine uses a lot of different citrus and acidity to elevate the flavour of the dishes.
What's your go-to comfort food?
I love rice for its taste, texture and capacity to absorb different flavours––perhaps it's because I grew up eating it from my Spanish grandmother's cooking. It is delicious and it instantly reminds me instantly of family and comfort. In turn, rice is the perfect combo for me between memory and flavour.
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