Bali-based Maurizio Bombini shares the story of his passion for cooking and why he broke away from big hotel groups to open his own Italian restaurant, Mauri, with Joezer Mandagi.
Some people spend years trying to find what they want to do for the rest of their lives. And then there are those who seem to have it all figured out basically from day one – like Maurizio Bombini, the chef who has opened Mauri in Seminyak. It’s one of Bali’s most acclaimed new eateries.
“Actually, I grew up in a restaurant,” Bombini began when Prestige sat down with him. He talked at length about his parent’s restaurant in Puglia, situated down at the heel of Italy’s “boot”, and how his childhood revolved around it. “I played in the kitchen and slowly it became kind of a passion,” he continued, “until it became my life.”
Qualifying as a chef in Italy meant going to culinary school for five years, followed by learning from as many people and at as many places as possible. “I started to travel around Italy, between Courmayeur, Tuscany and Abruzzo,” he recalled. “Then I began to gain some more experience outside of Italy, going to Switzerland and France.” At one point, he spent eight years picking up new ideas and techniques in Monte Carlo.
As Bombini continued to grow and make a name for himself, the rich culinary traditions and wealth of exotic ingredients in Asia beckoned to him. “I was offered an opportunity to work with Ritz-Carlton in China, so almost 10 years ago I moved to Asia,” he explained. For about one and a half years he worked at The Ritz-Carlton Sanya Resort, in Yalong Bay. Next came an invitation to join the Bvlgari Resort Bali in Uluwatu, where he was appointed as chef de cuisine of the venue’s Italian restaurant, Il Ristorante.
“After three and a half years came the opportunity to open this beautiful property in Ubud, the Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Resort, where I was in charge of the opening as Executive Chef,” Bombini elaborated. “I spent four years there and after those beautiful four years, the time came to open my own restaurant. And that’s where I am now.”
And that was where our conversation happened, at the sitting area near the bar of Mauri in Seminyak, only a couple of hours away from the start of dinner service on what was sure to be another busy Friday night. Saying that Bali’s hospitality scene is competitive would be a massive understatement, especially when it comes to a tourism hotspot as cutthroat as Seminyak. Bombini, however, knew full well what he was getting himself into when he decided to leave the relative comfort and safety of big-name establishments.
“For sure it was not my plan,” he said with huge grin on his face. “When I was 17 or 18 years old, I told my parents that I’d never open my own restaurant because it wasn’t what I wanted to do; I want to work for big brands, big hotels.”
Still, when the opportunity presented itself, he took the chance and plunged straight in. “Yes, there’s a big risk, but I was very excited to jump into it,” he went on. “I’m the kind of person that needs to feel excitement, I need to feel something happen.” Bombini was fully aware of how strong the competition was and how tough it could become, but he was happy. And so were the foodies and culinary adventurers frequenting Seminyak, along with just about anybody looking for a novel fine-dining experience.
Mauri certainly brings something new, offering Italian cuisine that, as the chef himself describes it, comes “with a small touch of modernity, contemporariness that you don’t see yet in Bali.” Bombini also emphasizes the use of fresh, local ingredients. “That is a very important point for me,” he indicated. Naturally, there are quite a few items that are simply not available in Bali. At least not with the kind of quality that would be acceptable for Mauri. So, ingredients like olive oil, Parmesan and several other types of cheese are brought in from Italy, while fish, chicken, pork and 90 percent of vegetables used in Mauri are locally sourced.
“Overall, we are doing 70 percent local produce and 30 percent imported,” Bombini stated. “I’ve been in Bali for eight years and in the last three to four years I’ve seen a lot of improvement in local products as people finally start to invest in farming and local items.” During his eight years in the island, he has developed a cordial relationship with farmers around the island and even fishermen in Lombok.
The restaurant itself, meanwhile, is unmistakably Mediterranean that exudes warmth. “The other important point is being in touch with the customer,” Bombini went on while nodding towards Mauri’s glass-encased kitchen. “We have a very beautiful open kitchen where the customer can see everything we are doing. The guests can come inside of the kitchen and see what we are doing.”
As enjoyable as an evening at Mauri might be for diners, it would certainly seem that it’s the chef himself that gets the most out of the experience—perhaps now even more than when he was working at the aforementioned world class resorts. “When I was a kid I was really passionate to be a chef. Then when I was a teenager I was a little bit less enthusiastic because I started to see the reality of life in the kitchen,” Bombini said. “You need to be really, really passionate to love this job.”
As the years went by he did indeed rediscover that passion, and see it grow. “Since I opened Mauri, I became more and more passionate because I can just focus on cooking, talking to my guest and being with my team,” he went on. “I am super happy and when I’m in the kitchen time stops. I don’t notice what time it is and it could be 2 o’clock when I finish and I don’t realise how late it is.”
As our conversation came to a close, Bombini reminisced about what it takes to make a great chef. “What I always tell my team is that kitchen skills you can always learn; what you must have to be a successful chef is passion and attitude – a willingness to learn,” he concluded. “It’s very important that there is something inside – that you want to learn, that you want to spend time in the kitchen. Then the skills will come.”
Unfortunately, time didn’t exactly stop during our all too brief chat. From the mezzanine of Mauri, we could see the team of ushers, servers and waiters gathering for their final briefing before the doors were opened. The sounds emanating from the kitchen also rose steadily.
Bombini graciously took us on a final tour of his playground. It was a Friday night, and it didn’t take long for the first hungry diners to arrive, all eager to sample the latest culinary marvels of Seminyak. As we prepared to leave Mauri, I threw one last glance towards the kitchen and saw Bombini growing more animated by the second. Now, that’s what a chef taking on Bali’s fiercest culinary battleground looks like.