Armando Bonadonna talks to John Krich
Armando Bonadonna is not a name you will find on any World’s 50 Best lists. He isn’t trendy or flashy or a publicity-seeker. He’s been a fighter in the trenches of authentic Italian cuisine for much of his life. A compact man with greying hair and fierce look through his designer glasses, Bonadonna may not be a “good woman,” as his name translates, but he is certainly one of Bangkok’s truly good chefs.
As the top man at Galleria Milano, a small yet elegant corner restaurant at the back of a Sukhumvit 20 mall, outfitted to look like it’s part of that famed 19th-century arcade at the heart of Milan, he doesn’t have a big kitchen to work with—barely room to turn around a central work station, with various ovens and steamers on shelves to all sides. He works with only a half-dozen Thais trained personally, but he does have the large budget and support of Italian ownership to import the finest ingredients. This includes some small, tender artichokes, perfectly in season now in southern Puglia, which he deftly transforms into an amazing salad. Most unusually, his sous-chef takes a mini-knife and finely slices up the stalks, leaves, and heart, while still raw, nearly into mint-green shavings. With an experienced hand, Chef Armando bathes them in just the right amount of olive oil and lemon. To this, the chef adds just the right amount of goat cheese and finally some Parmigiano shavings. His professional trick is to stuff it all into a circular mould so the salad can be served as a perfectly round heap of flavour with a garnish of sprouts.
“Every night I dream of a beautiful girl,” he jokes. “But then I wake up and have ideas for dishes like this.”
And he’s been doing this for as long as he can remember. Both his parents, Sicilians who moved north to settle just outside Venice, were professional cooks. “As the saying goes,” Chef Armando translates, “I was born in a pan.”
His first job, at 16, was next to his dad in the kitchen of the world-famous Hotel Danieli near the Piazza San Marco at the end of Venice’s Grand Canal. “But like most kids, I had to rebel and go out on my own.” So he has spent much of life out of his native land, in at least ten countries, many in Asia. Taking the Galleria Milano post meant a second stint in Bangkok.
But all along, as he has invented a solid repertoire of tasty specialties, he has not rebelled against the basic principles of Italian cuisine. A perfect balance is achieved in a most un-Italian tuna tartare laced with soft avocado. But Chef Armando follows this with what must be one of the most quintessentially Italian of plates—an homage to his Sicilian roots that’s a single coil of al dente spaghetti bathed in a silky smooth tomato sauce that is magically charged with a strong anchovy flavour. A single actual salted sardine serves as garnish, along with a basil sprig. Like Armando, it’s simple, but strong and totally satisfying.
I wish he had shown me how it was done, but perhaps he wants to keep it a secret, or he’s a bit embarrassed by the size of his work space, or, more likely, he doesn’t want to make me a witness to “a chef’s work, which is always done with a lot of tasting and using your hands.”
I barge into his inner sanctum as he is carefully composing today’s piece de resistance, succulent cubes of Italian beef flanks set on the plate in a checkerboard of alternating mounds of polenta-informed mashed potatoes. More slivers of artichoke, deep-fried this time, add subtle notes to a steak that’s truly unique. So is the almond parfait Armando produces on the premises.
At Galleria Milano, you’ll find some of the very best renditions of Italian classics, like carbonara and carpaccio. But the management can’t really provide up-to-date menus because Chef Armando’s list of specials changes nearly every day. Maybe this experienced master doesn’t want me in the kitchen for too long because he’s still got so many outstanding one-of-a-kind specialties up his sleeve.
Mille Malle, Sukhumvit Soi 20
Tel: 02 663 4988
Open daily: Mon-Sun 11.30am-2pm, 5pm-11pm