What was your childhood in East Germany like? “I lived in Weißwasser, a small city close to then-East Berlin. In East Germany, life was different, my childhood was simple and happy. Most weekends were spent with my grandparents. We ate simple food like konigsberger klopse [meatballs]. “We didn’t have many products in East Germany, everyone had their own garden. My grandma’s basement had a big shelf with a lot of jars of pickled and preserved vegetables and fruits. In the autumn, I helped my grandparents forage for mushrooms and then pickled them, as well as apples and pears. “When I was eight years old, I knew I liked cooking – that and ice hockey. In 1990, Germany was united, I was eight years old. I ate my first French fries at McDonald’s in West Berlin, and I had never seen shopping malls before. It was incredible.” Where did you do your apprenticeship? “In 1998, I was 16 and moved to northern Bavaria, where I started my apprenticeship at a small family hotel. The senior chef had his own pigs, so he did his own butchery and we made ham and sausages. At 16, you’re quite young and impressionable. The family treated me almost like their son so I learned a lot about personal growth, not just in my apprenticeship. “During this time my parents moved to southern Bavaria and after my apprenticeship I moved back in with them and worked for seven months in a restaurant that had 14 Gault Millau points. This was my first experience in fine dining. Before, I learned traditional home cooking with Swiss influence but here was the first time I saw foie gras, truffles and artichokes. I was like a sponge wanting to learn more.” Where else did you work in Germany? “I got an opportunity to work at the Mandarin Oriental, Munich with chef Mario Corti, where the restaurant had one Michelin star and 16 Gault Millau points. I started as chef de partie in the cold kitchen and worked there for three and a half years – I left as a sous chef. That’s where I learned how to manage a team, because the hotel had only one main kitchen and we cooked for all the food outlets. Spanish chef on working with Ferran Adrià and making it in Asia “I kept in touch with chef Mario and in 2011 he got me a job at Schloss Elmau, a five-star private resort in a valley surrounded by mountains [in the Bavarian Alps]. He was looking for a sous chef for the fine-dining restaurant, which had one Michelin star. “One of the highlights was in 2015, when we hosted the G7 summit. I cooked for all the presidents, like Barack Obama. The menu was designed by [German chancellor] Angela Merkel – it was traditional German food. The main course was venison with red cabbage and chestnuts. There was lots of preparation before the event and then it was over in two days. It was like a military operation. I was proud to be part of this. “A year after I arrived, the chef de cuisine left and I took over the position in 2012. I maintained the one Michelin star rating for six years and we had 17 Gault Millau points.” When I was in Germany, my inspiration was always Asia. Now I’m showing German food in Hong Kong Chef Mario Paecke How did you manage to do that? “Passion. When you are sous chef or in the lower positions, you always follow the chef de cuisine and learn. When you are chef de cuisine, other people want to learn from you, and you need to work on yourself, which motivates me more. “I also used to play ice hockey and when I was in a team we trained every day, four days a week after school, and on weekends in the winter season we went to other cities to play. This built my mindset to train to be better and disciplined.” How did you get to Hong Kong? “I told chef Mario I wanted to go to Asia. In 2012, we had done a food promotion on the MS Europa, a five-star cruise ship. We were on its South Asian 14-day tour and I fell in love with Asia. Every year since 2013 I have travelled once or twice to Asia, including Myanmar, where I’ve been three times. “In 2017 I was 35 years old and even though my career was good in Germany, I wanted to start again. I could barely speak English and felt this was a weakness for me. So I wanted to live in Asia to improve my English. Chef Mario asked [Landmark Mandarin Oriental culinary director] Richard Ekkebus if he had a job for me and I got it four weeks later. “I had visited Hong Kong two years earlier. I just wanted to go to Asia, but if it was Hong Kong it would be amazing. I worked at Amber and opened Somm, working there for four years.” What’s the difference between working in Hong Kong and Germany? “In Germany, the chefs have a lot of skills and knowledge. As chef de cuisine, I tell them what I want and they execute it by themselves. But in Hong Kong it’s a different story because their knowledge and skills are at a different level. I have to write the recipe accurately and add pictures because they did not grow up eating this kind of food.” What is the concept of Margo? “It’s modern European with a German influence. Margo gives me the opportunity to bring a bit of Germany to Hong Kong, to show what we are doing. Dishes like konigsberger klopse, rainbow trout, these are traditional dishes in a refined, elevated way. In Germany, we have different areas with different potato salads. At the moment I’m showcasing the Bavarian version. When I was in Germany, my inspiration was always Asia. Now I’m showing German food in Hong Kong.” How did you get into photography? “In 2007, I started doing food photography. It’s creative and you can always improve. At the moment I only have Sundays off, so I plan my time very carefully. I make bucket lists of places I want to shoot, like Kowloon side for the neon lights, or drone photography of the sunset or sunrise at Causeway Bay typhoon shelter, or at the beach in Shek O. I try not to lose time deciding where to shoot so even with this I am organised.” What is your favourite ingredient? “White asparagus is a big thing in Germany. During my apprenticeship I was not allowed to peel the white asparagus, only the senior chefs could do that. If you don’t peel them correctly you ruin them. “You need to cradle the asparagus in your hand and use your thumb and forefinger to turn them slightly. If you don’t peel them well, there is some skin left over – this is not acceptable and you have to peel it again and then the asparagus is not perfectly round. How you peel it is turn it once one way, then do a slight turn before peeling it again. This is a big skill to have in Germany.” Like what you read? Look for more food and drink in SCMP Post Magazine .