CIAK - Lights, Camera, Action!
Graziano is the Food & Beverage Manager of
CIAK – In The Kitchen, an Italian restaurant in Hong Kong that follows the philosophy of a friendly trattoria, where traditional and fresh homemade style Italian food is served, from daily baked bread, pizza and hearty pasta.
Here, he shines as a great host who aims to translate the essence of Italian hospitality into the trattoria through a service with heart and a thoughtful menu of homely delights.
We had a nice chat with him about what it takes to deliver a memorable guest experience.
Tell us about your career. How did you get started?
I think it was always part of me! From my grandfather to my parents, uncles and cousins, across the cities of Italy, London and New York, the food and beverage business is a family affair, deeply rooted in my genes. Besides, I come from Capri, Italy’s most picturesque island, where tourism is a key industry and where I have always been influenced by the Mediterranean way of living: simple, warm and generous. When you grow up in this environment, you develop pretty quickly the passion and natural skills for hospitality.
Can you mark the turning point of your working career?
Definitely when I moved to Florida, where I enrolled in a hospitality course and settle for a few years. I then relocated to New York City to seize bigger opportunities. I was curious to broaden my horizons, to explore and grow my skills in a differently reality.
How did you end up in Asia from USA?
There was an Italian parenthesis between these two stages.
For a couple of years, I decided to go back to Italy to fulfill my passion for wines. Connecting with masters of their Art, mainly in Tuscany - the world-acclaimed region for Chiantis - I sharpened my knowledge of terroir, grape varieties and winemaking and develop my palate. This period helped me gaining the necessary experience to do at my best what I do today.
I love my motherland but I was aspiring for something bigger and my dream of career led me to Hong Kong where, for the first years, I joined GAIA group, one of Asia’s leading independent restaurant companies. Then in 2015, I started managing CIAK – In The Kitchen where I really have the opportunity to share a part of our culture with our guests. Here, every day, I dedicate myself to instill my vision of authentic Italian lifestyle, inspiring my team to service excellence in order to please guests with unique wine and dine experiences.
According to you, what are the main features to do this kind of job?
First of all, it’s a matter of personality: you have to be smiling and selfless, to develop the sense of pleasing and generosity.
Secondly, you have to meet customer’s request while staying humble, not being intrusive and be aware of their preferences.
Thirdly, you have to love what you do and communicate this feeling to people.
I am lucky because the philosophy of CIAK – In The Kitchen matches with mine: simple food using few ingredients that we are making the best out.
What's your secret to keeping customers coming in?
Simply by doing what we do best: offering people the best experience when they sit down at our table, a culinary journey between new flavours and food, complemented by true hospitality, warm and generous. Our concept of flexible kitchen is born thanks to the culinary direction of Chef Umberto Bombana, who is really capable of understanding every customer’s needs.
What’s the strangest request you got from a client?
When they asked me for a carbonara with no eggs… to me it was, more or less, like asking to build a house without basis.
Do you find more difficult working here in Hong Kong or in USA?
It is not a matter of difficulty, but a matter of the place linked to its history and cultural behaviour.
I will make myself clear: the Italian cuisine in Hong Kong is original because it is pretty new and it didn’t undergo significant changes; in the USA instead, it has been adjusted over the years, many dishes have been modified and invented.
This is why I love the cuisine we make here better, we offer the best ingredients, without altering the original taste.
The importance of pairing: 95% of the time, if there’s a bad match, the taste of the food won’t suffer, but the wine will. How do you navigate this connection between food and wine?
Most of it based on the experience I gained.
When I have to recommend a pairing, I would easily recall to my memory all the flavours I came across over the years and my travels.
But you also have to identify what’s your guest like and if he is set for something classic or in the mood to venture into new wines, understanding him is the key.
Especially here, where we have a massive number of customers every day: some of them stick to things they are familiar with, some want to try something new; then you would find the one who knows what he wants, the one that thinks he knows, the one who drinks just French, the one who wants Italian, the one who trusts and leaves the decision to me.
It is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get!
Let’s play: I name a wine of Certa’s portfolio and you do the pairing… ready?
Buonora Tascante, Carricante 100%, a white expression of Etna Volcano that goes very well with our spaghetti aglio (garlic), olio (oil) and bottarga (delicacy of salted, cured fish roe). It reminds me of home, where we usually drink this wine that has a nice freshness and acidity which balances the salty flavour of seafood.
Korem Argiolas, indigenous grape of Sardinia, Bovale Sardo, just beautiful paired with a very simple steak.
Moscato Ceretto with its delicate sweetness and light bubbles that complement the candied fruitiness of an apple tarte.
You met some of our producers, can you tell me a characteristic that impressed you?
Valentina Argiolas is a very elegant woman and she reminds me of the colours and flavours of the Mediterranean, with scents of rosemary and juniper.
Alberto Tasca is a warm-hearted person, always smiling, like the Sicilian rolling hills kissed by the sun.
Federico Ceretto is like the Barolo he produces: determined and sturdy with a lot of character.
What’s your motto?
Making customers happy is easy, the challenge is to making their experience memorable to keep them coming back.
Stick around, we will post more #kitchenstories