Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In 27 Questions, we get up close and personal with notable Hong Kong personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all revealed in roughly the same amount of time it takes to sit through a round of speed dating. 

In a city where restaurants appear to open and close at the drop of a hat, and where even the most casual patron fancies themselves a dining critic, Amber has maintained critical-darling status for 13 hard-fought years. The two-Michelin-starred restaurant (located in the equally excellent Landmark Mandarin Oriental) has become synonymous with Hong Kong’s status as a fresh and innovative fine-dining destination, not just within Asia but from a global perspective as well. One of the key players in this gastronomic renaissance is chef Richard Ekkebus, Culinary Director at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental and the sole custodian of Amber since 2005.

A Dutch maverick who trained under French masters such as Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire, Ekkebus fortunately brought his visually imaginative and ingredient-driven style of cooking to Hong Kong. It’s telling that in all the time Amber has been open, the chef has never vacated his post; this is a man whose soul and raison d’être is, evidently, tied up with his restaurant. Just days ahead of a temporary closure which will see Amber reborn (after four months of extensive renovations), we took the opportunity to chat to Ekkebus about slightly less lofty (but no less fun) topics. From his tipple of choice to love at first sight, step inside the mind of this culinary wunderkind.

Richard Ekkebus

Name: Richard Ekkebus
Age: 52
Neighbourhood: Wong Chuk Hang
Occupation: Director of Culinary and Food & Beverage, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental

 

1. What is your life motto?

Luctor et emergo — it’s the Latin motto of my home province of Zeeland in the Netherlands. These words denote our constant battle agains the ocean, since Zeeland is technically below sea level. Basically it means, “I struggle, I survive, I persevere”, a sentiment that’s helped me throughout my career and personal life.

2. What is the best meal you've ever eaten in Hong Kong?

A late festival meal last year at home, surrounded by my wife, kids and close friends. The food was home-cooked and simple — a vehicle for great conversation and a lot of fun. My best meals are always in the best company.

3. What was your first job?

Kitchen porter.

4. What is your drink of choice?

Red wine, preferably Pinot Noir or Grenache.

Richard Ekkebus
Ekkebus himself is an avid oenophile, so it’s no surprise that — under the direction of sommelier John Chan — Amber has one of the most exclusive and varied restaurant cellars in Hong Kong.
5. When was the last time you drove a car?

A few weeks ago while I was in Mauritius, but I’m more of a motorcycle rider. I’d take a motorcycle any day over a car — that’s my transportation of choice in Hong Kong.

6. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?

My balcony faces the Aberdeen Marina Club’s yacht harbour. Everywhere I go, I’ve had and will always need to have that connection with the ocean.

7. Which phone app couldn't you live without?

Google Maps! I’m a terrible navigator who gets lost easily, so it’s instrumental in helping me get around by bike and on foot.

8. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Seafood. I was born and raised by the sea; it has shaped who I am.

9. What is your biggest regret in life?

To have not finished university.

10. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?

People are not considerate of motorcyclists, it can be extremely dangerous.

11. How often do you prepare your own meals?

Rarely. My wife Fiona is a fantastic cook and I love eating her food. At home, I mainly do the wine opening!

Amber is arguably best known for its Adam Tihany-designed interior. The Romanian designer’s signature chandelier (made up of 4,000 refractive brass rods) will be replaced by new fixtures that echo Ekkebus’s reputation for culinary innovation and creativity.
12. What is your greatest fear?

Global warming.

13. When did you last ride the Star Ferry? What were you doing/where did you go?

A few weeks ago. We make it a point when we have friends in town to take them on the Star Ferry at least once. It’s a fun ride that really enables you to admire the views of Victoria Harbour. I’m a total fan.

14. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?

French fries.

15. What is one movie everyone should see?

Plastic Ocean by Craig Leeson.

16. What is your typical Sunday like?

I wake up later than usual and start by having a single espresso and healthy breakfast in bed. I read a great book whilst playing a record on vinyl, then head into town somewhere for a casual lunch. I’ll sometimes catch a movie in the afternoon, before heading home for an early dinner cooked by my wife, usually accompanied by a killer bottle of wine that I’ll decant if necessary. Early to bed.

17. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?

The first five years of having kids.

18. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?

Mauritius: It’s a place we called home (and still do) for 8 years. My son was born there and my daughter grew up there.

19. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?

“Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin.

ON its last day of service in 2018, Amber will be serving its “Feast for the Future” menu, comprised of 14 of Ekkebus’s most classic creations, such as this pigeon “Au Sang” with cereal, Chiogga beetroot purée and jus.
20. If you could banish someone from Hong Kong forever, who would it be?

Well, I think the trademark of Hong Kong people is tolerance, so no one!

21. If you had to describe Hong Kong in one word, what would it be?

Intense.

22. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?

The smell of the sea.

23. Are you a good cook?

I let others judge whether I’m a good cook. As previously stated, I rarely cook at home but am known, on occasion, to do a serious salt-cooked fish and beer-boiled mussels.

24. Who is the best teacher you've ever had?

Robert Kranenborg. He’s a 2-star chef in Holland who played a critical and elementary part in my training. An extremely strict but articulate teacher, he taught me the importance of passing on craftsmanship.

25. Have you ever experienced love at first sight?

Yes, when I met my wife. She’s a beautiful woman who owned the barbershop that I used to go to. One time when I went in for a haircut, she was on her way out. I walked in, she changed her mind and the rest, as they say, is history.

26. How many pairs of shoes do you currently own?

I reckon around 30 pairs? I love shoes: They’re a mutual passion that my son and I share, though I think record-wise he’s got me beat! At the moment my favourite style are the “Achilles” hi-tops by Common Projects.

27. Would you rather never be alone for a single moment or be alone for the rest of your life? Why?

I could never be alone for the rest of my life! I’m a social animal. More important, I’m a chef: The essence of our lives is to share and to give.

Randy Lai
Watches Editor
Having worked in the Australian digital media landscape for over 5 years, Randy has extensive experience in men's specialist categories such as classic clothing, watches and spirits. He is partial to mid-century chronographs and a nice chianti.