One of the busiest days on the restaurant calendar is Mother’s Day as Hongkongers love to celebrate their mums with a slap-up meal. Tracey Furniss asks three top chefs how their mothers or grandmothers influenced them as chefs and the way they cook today
“I was born and raised in Vlissingen in the Netherlands, it’s a fisherman town,” says Richard Ekkebus, director of Culinary Operations and Food and Beverage at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental. “A few fishermen lived on our street and on Thursday nights when the fleet returned, there was always fresh fish. My favourite was the small sole and my mum would bake them in salted butter. I really looked forward to that. I was particularly fond of the sole’s crispy skin with lots of collagen.”
It was Ekkebus’s grandparents, however, that influenced him to become a chef. “My grandparents had a hotel and restaurant, and my grandmother ran the kitchen,” he says. “She was always in the kitchen. Unconsciously that has influenced me to become a chef.”
His mother’s sole dish and grandmother’s influence have made Ekkebus astute about what women, in particular, like to experience when eating – which is reflected in the cuisine served at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental’s flagship restaurant Amber.
The menu features low-carb, light, delicate dishes that are just as flavoursome as their richer, heavier counterparts.
This Mother’s Day, Ekkebus celebrated mums with a menu of uni with passion fruit and summer squash, ocean trout with carotene and marigold, blue lobster with kabu and caviar, John Dory with scampi and the first Western Australian winter truffles, and pigeon with watercress and summer greens. For dessert, there’s bitter chocolate with tofu.
Then there is Hong Kong-native Vicky Cheng. The Vea and Wing restaurateur and chef says his favourite dish growing up was Shanghainese-style salted raw crab in garlic vinegar. “It was just something that all the kids looked forward to whenever we saw grandma. It was so delicious,” he says. “I wanted my guests to taste this delicious recipe, so I decided to put this on the menu of my new Chinese restaurant, Wing. Whenever this dish is brought out to my guests, we introduce it as a taste of my childhood.”
Cheng’s mother cooked Chinese food at home, which sparked his interest in cooking. He also liked watching the Food Network but says he first started cooking when his mum was out of town.
“There was one time when my mother was away on a trip and there was no food left, but there was some money. I went to the supermarket to get some simple ingredients, and that’s when I first started cooking,” the chef says.
Cheng appreciates his mum for always believing in him. “My mother was literally the only person to believe in me becoming a chef and it actually gave me the motivation to be the best I could be,” he says. “My mother has been the most supportive person in my life. Even now, our bond is very strong and she is a big part of my success.”
For Vea’s Mother’s Day tasting menu, Cheng created a snack dedicated to his mother and his wife – the mother of his two daughters – called Without the Two of Us, after the song by veteran Cantopop singer George Lam Tsz-Cheung. “This is my mother’s favourite song and it’s also the only song that I have sung to my wife,” says Cheng. The dish uses two ingredients from the lyrics – salted fish and bok choy – and is paired with a music box that plays the song’s melody.
Famous for his nose-to-tail cuisine, British-born chef Nathan Green grew up with parents who could both cook well. “Mum was always amazing at homely dishes, my death-row meal would be her shepherd’s pie and baked beans followed by steamed ginger pudding and custard. A shepherd’s pie is normally the first thing she cooks me whenever I go home,” says Green, whose first gig in Hong Kong was at 22 Ships and Ham & Sherry before opening Rhoda, a restaurant inspired by his grandmother. He also opened smokehouse Henry at Rosewood before teaming up with the group behind Octavium to helm European steakhouse Rex Wine & Grill.
“Mum’s cooking was always warm and generous,” continues Green. “We used to have a beautiful vegetable garden and fruit trees and nothing would go to waste – gooseberries, raspberries, red currants, plums and pears would all get transformed into delicious desserts like pies and crumbles. Every Sunday, she would cook us a roast dinner and Saturdays would consist of dishes like spaghetti Bolognaise (not from a packet) or chilli con Carne.”
Dishes he now serves that are inspired by his mother are his pies, hand-cut chips and desserts. For Mother’s Day, Green is serving roast beef with all the trimmings. “Mum always made a wonderful treacle tart to use up leftover pastry, so one of my favourite desserts, which we will serve too, is a fabulous treacle tart,” he says. “I’m blessed to have grown up in a food-loving family and it all stems from my grandparents down to my own parents and then to me and my siblings. I hope all this influence passes to my kids, Lily and Harley.”