Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

Taste Not Waste

Is the mantra of Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, which does its bit for sustainable fine dining

Words: Janice Leung Hayes
Photos: Calvin Sit

Taste Not Waste

Hong Kong is high-powered, efficient and compact – just the way we like it, for the most part. But when it comes to sustainability the odds are against us, as more than 90 percent of our food must be imported to feed the 7.3 million population.

Even so, Richard Ekkebus, the Culinary Director at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, believes there are lots of “intelligent gestures” that can improve sustainability in the home and in business.

“It’s a misconception that because we’re in the city, we cannot be sustainable,” Ekkebus says.

“We cannot all be locavores, that would mean we can’t drink tea, or eat chocolate and oranges, so you need to put things into perspective. I think it’s about not going to extremes.”

 

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At Amber restaurant, line-caught fish such as plaice and lesser-known fish such as pollock are used instead of less sustainable cod

For Ekkebus, responsible sourcing has been a given from day one. “When we opened 12 years ago, we were in contact with the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) to make sure that nothing on our menu was on the Red List (of threatened species). We had an agreement with them nine years ago that we would not sell any bluefin tuna.”

As a seafood-driven restaurant, Amber has long served up line-caught fish in season and used lesser-known fish like pollock to replace cod, which is overfished. Now, his focus is on vegetables, as the natural resources required to grow plants are a fraction of those needed for livestock. According to the Water Footprint Network, 15,415 litres of water are required for one kilogramme of beef, whereas a kilo of tomatoes requires just 214 litres of water.

“We cannot move forward and have our population grow and continue to exploit natural resources as we have done in the past. We need to live differently. We are much better off than we have ever been,” Ekkebus believes.

He adds that while there has been growth in the luxury market, there is more restraint now. “You go once in a while to a restaurant like Amber and eat a nice steak, but you also feast at least one day a week on vegetables.”

 

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Amber’s innovative dishes show that fine dining can be sustainable and sublime

At home, Ekkebus says he is mostly vegetarian. “It’s a choice we made as a family. First of all we felt better, and second, if we were to eat meat we would rather go to a good restaurant.”

His shift in lifestyle and increased interest in plant-based dishes is reflected in Amber’s offerings. “Our menu engineering has completely changed. Before, we had foie gras in the canapés, but now they’re all vegetable-based.”

In addition to reducing the amount of animal protein that is flown in from overseas, Ekkebus puts an emphasis on vegetables because he thinks they are more interesting than meat. “If you eat 10 courses of pure animal protein, you feel terrible at the end. If you have more vegetables, it’s much easier to digest and friendly to eat.”

With meat, the “nose-to-tail” movement is well established, encouraging chefs to use and serve every part of an animal. The same is being practiced at Amber with vegetables and there are special bins for peelings used in stocks and sauces.

“It’s not a desperate measure. It’s because there were a lot of things we weren’t using properly. Before, peelings would go into the bin. But the peelings of a carrot are still carrot. So if you’re making a broth, you can use the peelings, you don’t need to cut a new carrot to make a broth. What we’re looking for is to extract the taste.”

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