Two years ago, when chef Hubertus Kramer was invited to Hong Kong for a week's 'cook-off' at the Regent's Plume Restaurant to see if he was up to the job of heading the restaurant, he ended up missing his flight home to Germany. 'I spent the last 24 hours wandering around the markets in Yau Ma Tei and Mongkok,' he recalls. 'I was so enthralled by the different produce, even to the way the fish and meat was displayed, mostly alive, which is unheard of in Europe . . . I forgot I had a flight to catch. I knew then Asia was where I wanted to develop my passion for cooking.' A few weeks later Mr Kramer was back in Hong Kong with his family. Now hardly a week goes by when his blond head cannot be spied, diving among the vegetable stalls, picking out some new root vegetable or fruit, which he takes back to the Plume kitchens to experiment with. 'Market trips are for inspiration and if you want to know anything, this is the place to be,' he says. 'Many restaurant chefs let their suppliers come to them. But I feel you cannot afford not to go. How do you know if your supplier is giving you the best price or the best quality?' With dinner for two averaging about $2,000 at Plume, Mr Kramer and his team are under pressure to produce superlative food. Every three months, the menu is changed: the team create the new dishes, experimenting until everything, down to the smallest detail, is perfect. 'We hold tastings for the general manager, the food and beverage manager, the restaurant manager and other chefs,' Mr Kramer says. 'It is a constant sales pitch as with every morsel I have to explain where the flavour and taste are coming from and justify why I used this ingredient instead of that.' Although Plume is a Western restaurant, the menu is influenced by the region, marrying local produce with exotic imported ingredients. So Mr Kramer asks around: what vegetables will be in season next and how will he be able to use them? 'It cannot be a chore, you have to love it,' he says. It is this love which takes Mr Kramer down to the markets. In the neat offices upstairs at the Mongkok market, orders for imported meat, poultry and fish from the top restaurants and hotels are dealt with, 'but it is good to come out here and see what they are selling on the street,' says Mr Kramer, poking around in a large tank where garoupa are selling for $500 a fish. When he is not at market or devising new dishes and menus, much of his time is taken up with teaching Plume's army of Chinese chefs, a pastime which gives him great pleasure. In return, they wander round the markets with him, acting as translators and explaining any produce that is new to him.