10 Minutes With…Richard Ekkebus, Culinary Director at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental
An interview with Richard Ekkebus, Culinary Director at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental
Amber Aka Uni Cauliflower Lobster Daurenki Tsar Imperial Caviar | Image courtesy of Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
A Little Background…
Chef Richard Ekkebus draws inspiration from international flavours and cuisine in his work. As Culinary Director at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, the chef oversees all the cuisine at the five-star hotel. Amber is the hotel’s contemporary, fine dining restaurant, which recently earned an honourable Sustainable Restaurant Award and is listed as No.31 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020. Amber was also ranked as No.56 in the World’s 100 Best Restaurants 2018 and has been awarded two Michelin stars for twelve consecutive years by the Michelin Guide for Hong Kong and Macau 2019.
Chef Ekkebus began his career as an apprentice in Holland under Michelin-starred chefs Hands Snijders and Robert Kranenborg, where he won “Young Chef of the Year” by Golden Chef’s Hat. Richard continued to embark on his culinary journey by exploring world cuisines including his time at the Royal Palm in Mauritius and The Sandy Lane in Barbados as the Executive Chef. In 2005, he was appointed Executive Chef for The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong.
Richard wanted to explore his culinary innovation at Amber, by introducing new ingredients and curating a new contemporary French menu. Amber now offers a nuanced menu that highlights the flavours, masterful techniques, and a sustainable, creative vision by Chef Ekkebus.
Fruit, Tomato, Strawberry Shiso, Tosazu, Vinegar, Camelina Oil, Myoga Katsuobushi | Image courtesy of Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
1) You wanted to be an engineer before you took the career path which progressed into a Michelin-star chef. Could you tell us a little bit about this and how you made the decision to change career paths?
I was studying to become an engineer. In my country, it is common that your parents pay for your studies, clothing, food, and housing, but that young people work on the weekends and over holiday periods to make pocket money for fun things. I worked in a fine dining restaurant over weekends and holiday periods. The restaurant would sometimes need me on weekdays due to sick leaves or high business levels. Although my studies at times suffered a little, it was so much fun for me to work and learn in kitchens. I loved the camaraderie, the discipline, the attention to detail, the amazing exotic ingredients, the ability to give guests an incredible experience—and that, over time, made me re-think if I really wanted to become an engineer. I decided to do a gap year to figure it out and I ended up never returning to university.
2) You grew up in the Netherlands before travelling the world and working in the culinary destinations everywhere. How does your upbringing in your hometown and your traditional cuisine influence your cooking styles?
My grandparents were restaurateurs and I was often found in the kitchen with my grandmother—I loved it. I never thought about doing it as a job at a young age but I thoroughly enjoyed it at the time and I have incredibly fond memories of these experiences. Healthy food was important in our family and we ate well at home. I was fortunate to learn a lot of small skills that were useful when I entered the kitchen and had a head start compared to many young chefs. It was very intuitive for me to do certain things a certain way as I had seen it. My grandparents’ restaurant specialised in seafood and I was born and raised by the seaside, which influenced my love for all that is offered by the ocean. The village I was born in is now under sea level, so being at the seaside gave me a true understanding of the importance of looking after resources, and these values are still with me.
I loved the camaraderie, the discipline, the attention to details, the amazing exotic ingredients, the ability to give guests an incredible experience. —Richard Ekkebus, Culinary Director at Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
3) Can you tell us about the evolution of Amber from a sustainable point of view?
Sustainability and social responsibility is a buzzword that continues to be thrown around in businesses of all sizes and in all industries these days. Sustainability has been at the core of the Landmark Mandarin Oriental’s values since the opening 15 years ago; through intelligent, impactful, and responsible actions put in place. Over the years we have had a continuous focus on new projects, hence we do quite a lot of things, not only in Amber but in the entire hotel.
At The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, we continue to bring significant focus on how we can minimise harm to our planet, with emphasis on environmental, social, and governance performance. Over the 15 years, we have proven a responsible business case and lead the way in the hospitality scene of Asia and trialed initiatives eventually adopted at a group level by The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. In 2021, we will continue our search for the most ethical and sustainable ingredients whilst minimising carbon footprint, minimising the pressure on natural resources. Reduce our waste output & focus on social inclusion.
Okinawa Corn, Caviar, Seawater, Sudashi | Image courtesy of Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
4) Why is it important for the culinary world to take a more sustainable approach and how would you advise aspiring chefs to do so?
Race-segregated dining, smoking areas in restaurants, and deforestation just to name a few— were once all accepted behaviour, but it was we, humans, and society who decided that the world would be better if we changed things. Being a city of almost 8 million people, Hong Kong eats the most meat per capita in the world. Hong Kong is the largest market for industrially-farmed Brazilian beef, which is blamed for the deforestation in the Amazon. Hong Kong is proud to be one of the most efficient cities in the world, which has also bred a culture of convenience and abundance. What better place to start than here? The problems we are facing aren’t new, but they’ve become more urgent.
5) What are some of the key ingredients you’ve interpreted into the menu at Amber to align with the sustainability movement?
We are focusing on shifting animal protein to the vegetable ratio paradigm, because we used to eat 80% animal protein with little garnish, and these ratios have to change as they are not sustainable. We focus on Ethical Farmed animal proteins, that are free grazing, antibiotic, and growth hormone-free. We focus on sustainable seafood. Sustainable seafood is seafood that is either caught or farmed in ways that consider the long-term vitality of harvested species and the well-being of the oceans, as well as the livelihoods of fisheries-dependent communities’ from stock with a healthy population, with minimal impact on the marine environment in an area with effective, responsive, and responsible management. Our fruits and vegetables grow organically. We have eliminated all dairy products and replaced these with extra virgin plant-based oils. We eliminated single-use plastic, and we bottle our own in-house filtered water to deter bottles ending up in the already over-stretched Hong Kong landfills. We manage our waste responsibly.
Hong Kong is proud to be one of the most efficient cities in the world, which has also bred a culture of convenience and abundance. What better place to start than here? —Richard Ekkebus, Culinary Director at Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
6) What is your favourite cuisine at the moment?
I love to eat vegetables and have been predominantly plant-based for 18 months. I am not vegan and do eat meat or fish occasionally but my meals are predominantly plant-based.
Spring lamb loin gunpowder peppermint lardo di colonnata kabu | Image courtesy of Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
7) Where do you find inspiration for your menus?
Through meeting with my purveyors, the farmers and fisherman. The seasonality.
8) What’s something that every kitchen should have (i.e. three versatile ingredients)?
Fruits, vegetables, and extra Virgin oils.
9) What’s your favourite Dutch food?
French fries with mayonnaise.
10) Three favourite restaurants in Hong Kong (at the moment)?
I do not eat frequently out, I exercise a lot and love to eat at home with very simple meals.