Michelin-star chef Richard Ekkebus and his intense relationship with time
Every second counts for chef, who measures the preparation of dishes and their service to guests with rehearsed accuracy
R ecognised as one of Asia’s top chefs, Richard Ekkebus, director of food and beverage at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, which includes two Michelin-star, fine-dining restaurant Amber, understands how precision can lead to success.
“Cooking is about precise timing – timing between the restaurants, the service staff and kitchen, timing of the dishes and the pace of the guests according to their needs. All day we are busy with timing,” says Ekkebus, whose two Michelin-starred Amber is usually in the top four of Asia’s best restaurants, and top 20 of the world’s best restaurants. “Timing of service between guests and kitchen if not precise can be a disaster. We time everything, even when we do trials of dishes, we sit down in the restaurant and eat and understand how long each dish takes to get to the dining area, [to ensure that it is] still at the right temperature.”
Balancing home and work as a chef is never easy. “I wake up at 6.45 am each day, everybody wakes up because my son needs to go to school. We have a quick bite and coffee and we all go off. Sometimes I share a cab with my son or I drive my motor bike if it’s not raining. It’s a great way for me to unwind and get me prepared for the day,” says the father of two, who lives with his wife and 17-year-old son.
As he often does not leave work until midnight, he makes sure he spends his day off with the family. “I do not have any hobbies or sports on my day off because I am looking after my family. The hobby we have is eating. We love food.” Ekkebus moved to Hong Kong 12 years ago and has been with the Mandarin for 11 years, but a series of “bad timings” played a pivotal role in the award-winning chef’s arrival on our shores.
The Dutch native tried to open a restaurant in New York but, because of 9/11, it didn’t happen, so he moved to San Francisco to open one there, but then the second Gulf War broke out. “America was not meant to be,” says Ekkebus, who also has a restaurant in Shanghai called Fifty 8° Grill at the Mandarin Oriental Pudong. “A friend of mine, Jean-Luc Naret, who managed Sandy Lane [Barbados] said I should join him there.” He stayed at the famed resort for several years before coming to Hong Kong.
Ekkebus likes to be at the forefront of trends, not to follow them. “We look for what is coming next. When a supplier brings something new that no one really works with in Western restaurants, I will make something. Like the uni, 11 years ago we created a dish with sea urchin. Nobody was working in Western restaurants with it. And now everyone is working with it. So that’s why I took it off the menu. Now, we have a dish that uses all the basics of XO sauce. We like to challenge the status quo. That motivates me.”
Creating new dishes takes anything from 10 minutes to 10 months or years,” says the chef, whose only regret about time is “... that there isn’t more than 24 hours in a day. I could really do with 26 hours, there are so many things I just need to do.” TF