For the past 14 years, Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental has set the standard for how gastronomy should be. With his innovative take on French cuisine and vocal support for Asian produce, culinary director Richard Ekkebus has blazed a path on the Hong Kong dining scene. On 9 December 2018, the restaurant served its final plate before closing to prepare for its next chapter ­– following an extensive renovation project, Amber will open once more in late Spring 2019

On surviving

In a city where trends wax and wane and chefs come and go, Ekkebus represents a unique category of personalities who have advanced along with the rapid evolution of Hong Kong’s culinary landscape. The Dutch-born chef, who honed his craft under greats such as Alain Passard, Pierre Gagnaire and Guy Savoy before joining The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in 2005, says that having the freedom to experiment, and a desire to continuously challenge himself and his team is a main reason why Amber has been so successful. The restaurant has maintained its two-Michelin-star status for a decade, and has featured multiple times on the World and Asia editions of the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants list. We sat down with the gregarious chef a few days before Amber’s final service.

The death of fine dining

On surviving in Hong Kong’s notoriously challenging restaurant environment

“Every restaurant has a cycle in Hong Kong, and I think Amber has pushed it pretty far. It's a highly successful restaurant, and has pretty much won every accolade there is. I’ve always wanted Amber to be a forward-thinking restaurant – I may not be 21 anymore, but I’m young at heart so I've always liked to be innovating, and evolving. I'm always afraid of getting too repetitive. We need to write a new story – start from scratch again and challenge ourselves. What we're doing next with Amber is going to be really exposed. It’s like opening a new restaurant all over again.”

On the ‘death’ of fine dining

“Fine dining in Hong Kong is absolutely alive! People love to splurge and to be spoiled. Restaurants are evolving, and in Hong Kong it's not about sitting two-and-a-half hours at a table. We have to look at how we can fast-track that process, condense it, and see how we can have a much more interactive experience.”

On Hong Kong

On what Hong Kong has taught him

“When I arrived, I did what an old European chef does and cooked too salty, too sour, too sweet. I was being ignorant about it for a while. Then I ate more and more Cantonese food and discovered the subtleties of the cuisine. You start to understand what umami means.”

On his other love

On his other love

“The new Amber will play jazz because I love jazz, but maybe the kitchen will have hip-hop. I love old school hip-hop: a lot of Dr Dre, mixed with a little bit of Kanye West and some R&B. I listen to music all day. The playlist at Amber will be my playlist for sure – I’m going to funk it up a little bit!”

On his family

On spending time with his family

“My kids are pretty well fed and they come to restaurants with us. My son is miles ahead of me when I was his age. We have these Ekkebus food marathons where we do six restaurants in four days – from 12pm to 5pm, 24 courses at one restaurant, and then two hours later we are at another.”

On going green

On going green in Hong Kong

“We’re looking at how we can bring produce closer to us, how we can make urban rooftops more beautiful. We’re working with Rooftop Republic on growing herbs and small vegetables for the restaurant. Of course, we’re not going to be growing cabbages or anything larger, but maybe eventually we will. This is step one. There’s a scary amount of rooftop in our vicinity not being used and our landlords are very keen to explore this.”

New look

On Amber’s new look

“The new Amber will be a celebration of craftsmanship, which is something that Mandarin Oriental is good at. In the making of the restaurant, no wall is straight, everything has movement, it’s all about beautiful materials. We’re looking at small producers crafting embroidered linen, special leather chairs, and hand-knotted carpets, sourced from all over the world.”

Interview by Charmaine Mok

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