You may have already read our June cover story featuring chef Richard Ekkebus of Amber, in which he explains his new approach to fine dining — no dairy, less sugar, etc. — but that’s not all we spoke to him about. Here, in this exclusive online interview, Ekkebus reveals his guilty pleasure, what makes him angry in the kitchen, and much more.
French fries — not McDonald’s, I’m talking about real French fries like the ones my grandmother used to make. Where I’m from, we baked fries in kidney fats, or beef fats. It gives a very specific, very gold, very soft inside, very crispy outside texture — good fries make me cry!
Ever been food-poisoned?
Yes, with a cold pressed juice, here in Hong Kong! It was supposed to be a healthy food option with kale and apple. It was bad. Violent.
Say no more. When you have a banquet, is that the most stressful day?
No. It’s about organisation and preparation. We have a sheet where all the details of the events are on. So it’s actually very constructed, like a well-oiled machine. We have an early morning meeting, we go over critical control points, time slots and then action.
Favourite food destination?
Japan. Without a doubt. It’s not just food, it’s high art. Any major chef who has travelled the world will say the same. Not just Japanese food, any food. They perfect it. I had the greatest slice of pizza in my life in Tokyo — for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the place. I went to the kitchen — entire staff was Japanese. They take the ordinary, make it sublime. Their desire for perfection is admirable.
What’s the strangest food you’ve tried?
I’ve tried everything. I’ve eaten monkey. I’ve eaten insects. There’s nothing I will say no to, because I need to understand what it’s about. When you are a guest in a foreign home or country, you try what they have. So I’ve even tried whale at someone’s home because it’s disrespectful to say no!
When you go out, what do you eat?
Anything and everything different — it’s like music. You want to see my playlist? There’s rap, there’s opera, there’s rock. Food is the same. There’s not [just] one food that can nourish me. Even literature is the same: I read everything. I read on my phone, I read on my iPad. I read Spanish literature to biographies of Leonardo Da Vinci. That is life, that’s enrichment. Not going into a narrow tunnel. I try everything life offers.
What’s on your dining wish list?
South America. There are lots of restaurants. I’ve been to Peru but I would love to go to Argentina. I’d love to go to Brazil and discover more. I want to head to Chile.
There are too many reality TV cooking shows and celebrity chefs. Do they amp it up for good television?
Of course — they exaggerate for entertainment. Listen, I worked with Gordon Ramsay when I was in Paris and we were both very young chefs with Guy Savoy. He was a bully but not as you see him on TV. I think he created this image for himself for ratings. He’s not like that in reality. If he really was that aggressive all the time, nobody would really want to work with him.
What makes you angry in the kitchen?
Am I relentless at times when I see people goofing off, or they display a sense of “I don’t care”? I get really cross, for sure, because there is another person on the other side of the wall paying HK$3,000 for a meal and his expectations are the same as any critic, star or celebrity. So if you’re indifferent, it means you chose the wrong restaurant to work for.
What’s in your refrigerator at home?
There’s always a nice bottle of Champagne, a nice piece of ham, some salted butter, and jams. I love jams and I buy a lot of very beautiful jams. And there’s always fresh fruits in the fridge too.
Are your children into cooking?
No. My son is in the arts and my daughter studied literature. They’ve been in my kitchens since they were babies but showed little interest. But they are all foodies. My son is a student now and I see on his Instagram all the Michelin-star restaurants he’s eating in while travelling — how he pays for it, I don’t know. When I was a student, I lived on ramen noodles.
Does your wife cook?
She’s a phenomenal chef; my house has the best food in town — after Amber.