Five years in Japan, what did it do to this Argentinian Chef? Balbi honed his culinary craft by spending time at two-Michelin-starred restaurant Zurriola with Seiichi Honda, then at three-Michelin-starred restaurant Nihonryori RyuGin with Seiji Yamamoto, and at another two-Michelin-starred joint, Cuisines Michel Troisgros with Guillaume Bracaval. His dedication to learning and inheriting the traditional techniques of Japanese cuisine earned him a spot in the final 10 of the Japanese leg of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef awards.
But his culinary journey didn’t start in Japan; his experience in the West before coming to Asia, in numerous Michelin-starred restaurants including Le Bernardin in New York, influenced his art and his menu today.
We ask the seasoned and multicultural chef of Haku in Tsim Sha Tsui about his dinner party tricks and the traditions close to his heart.
Dinner parties: casual / formal?
It really depends on the occasion, but I always prefer a perfect balance of both – casual atmosphere for everyone to feel comfortable and formal for the food, to maintain the high-quality dining.
What would your playlist be?
For the playlist, I’d choose: Soda Stereo, an absolutely great band from Argentina. I’m telling you, download their tracks for your next party. Another favourite band of mine would be Bajofondo Tango Club, an electronic music band that combines chill with tango, truly innovative tracks – and if you understand Spanish you’ll love them even more. Oh, I’d also go for Jamiroquai and The Strokes to add some cool variations to the party.
A must-have dish for any dinner party?
Grilled meat over charcoal and wood never fails, if possible a good piece big enough to share between the whole table; with new potatoes, rosemary sea salt and a well-balanced wine from Mendoza the party will reach its climax.
Your three favourite Asian dishes?
My own personal choice is very influenced by Japan as I lived longer there than any other Asian country, so naturally I will go for okonomiyaki, katsu kare and, of course, ramen.
What are your favourite restaurants in Hong Kong?
I really enjoy going to Petrus and Amber, they’re considered the staples of the fine dining food scene in Hong Kong.
What’s the secret to hosting the perfect dinner party?
Drinks must be present; I have two that I can’t host a dinner party without – my grandmother’s sangria and a Fernet Branca with coke.
Any Argentinian traditions for dinner parties?
In Argentina, we eat as a family every Sunday. Our Sundays mean asado, wine and flan con dulce de leche! But we always get excited about the 29th of every month, because it’s a party – where we eat gnocchi and put money under the plates. It usually ends with most of our family members sleeping on the sofa drunk.
If you could invite anyone to your dinner party, who would they be?
I would invite Ferran Adrià, a mastermind of forward-thinking cooking, always looking to innovate and think outside the box. I’d also invite Kunio Tokuoka from Kitcho in Kyoto, a real master of Japanese kaiseki-ryori. I admire him a lot. Finally, Seiji Yamamoto from Ryugin. His craft is traditional, yet he always finds a way to re-create his dishes. I would prepare everything for them, but I’d probably end up asking them to teach me a few things.