SIL­VER SPOON

CHEF EX­TRAOR­DI­NAIRE FER­RAN ADRIÀ AND DOM PÉRIGNON’S RICHARD GE­OF­FROY EAT, DRINK AND MAKE MERRY FOR ONE UN­FOR­GET­TABLE EVENING

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life - See more be­hind-the-scenes photos of Lee and Ekke­bus on the streets of Hong Kong at hongkong­tatler.com/jul15

Ekke­bus, tak­ing in the sights and sounds of Hong Kong’s old­est (and soon-to-be de­funct) wet mar­ket, on Graham Street.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing. In San Fran­cisco, we’re very con­scious of where the prod­ucts are com­ing from, how they in­form our sense of place,” says Lee. “But in Hong Kong, all bets are off.” He ex­plains that, while prove­nance and lo­cal­ity may be im­por­tant in the Bay Area, it’s just not the same in a city such as Hong Kong, which is so heav­ily re­liant on im­ported pro­duce. While the food-lover ver­nac­u­lar may favour the whole idea of “farm-to-ta­ble” cook­ing, Lee’s a lit­tle more crit­i­cal of the con­cept, be­liev­ing that it’s a priv­i­lege that isn’t avail­able in ev­ery con­text.

Lee was in­trigued by the wet mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly from a cul­tural stand­point. “More than any­thing, it re­flects an eat­ing tra­di­tion of Hong Kong and the peo­ple—not pro­fes­sional chefs,” he says. “The thing is, I think this idea of lo­cal­ity came around be­cause chefs are in­ter­ested in qual­ity. If you have this idea of farm-to-ta­ble and you es­tab­lish a rule where you want to use ev­ery­thing only if it’s grown within 100 miles of your res­tau­rant, it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean the qual­ity is there. That’s why I un­der­stand the way Hong Kong is—you get the best prod­ucts you can.”

“I RE­ALLY FO­CUS ON SPEND­ING RE­SOURCES WHERE IT COUNTS—NOT A CHAN­DE­LIER OR A PI­CASSO ON THE WALL”

For the din­ner at The Land­mark Man­darin Ori­en­tal, that’s ex­actly what Lee did. A dish of bam­boo shoot with fresh peas, truf­fle and roasted hen jus was re­liant on his sourc­ing team pulling off the im­pos­si­ble: find­ing what felt like the last 50 fresh bam­boo shoots in Ja­pan, which were al­ready in their fi­nal days of the sea­son. But that’s ex­actly what Lee’s cook­ing is all about—a hum­ble in­gre­di­ent, at its peak, served sim­ply but in sur­pris­ing com­bi­na­tions. Some have de­scribed the Benu res­tau­rant as “lo-fi op­u­lence”—and it’s a state­ment that Lee laughs at.

“I’m not sure if ‘op­u­lence’ is the right word when it comes to my food,” he says. “What makes it lux­u­ri­ous is the enor­mous amount of thought put into the dishes and the enor­mous amount of re­sources used to ex­e­cute them.” To Lee, fine din­ing is no longer what it was 20 to 30 years ago, when it was heav­ily fo­cused on sourc­ing ex­pen­sive and lux­u­ri­ous prod­ucts—the finest Bel­uga caviar from Kaza­khstan, blue lob­ster from Scot­land—whereas to­day, it’s more about tech­nique and trans­form­ing those in­gre­di­ents into some­thing that will con­trib­ute to a spe­cial meal.

“Din­ers want an ex­pe­ri­ence that re­flects some­thing per­sonal to the chef or unique

to the res­tau­rant,” he ex­plains. “As mod­ern young chefs, we’ve taken the idea of op­u­lence and pre­sented it on our own terms. I re­ally fo­cus on spend­ing our re­sources on where it counts—not a chan­de­lier or hav­ing a Pi­casso on the wall.”

A clas­sic Benu take on lux­ury? “A good ex­am­ple is oys­ter with pork belly and kim­chi, be­cause what’s more hum­ble than tak­ing a cab­bage and fer­ment­ing it?” says Lee. Yet the one-bite dish takes an ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of ef­fort to cre­ate—seven sep­a­rate recipes need to be ex­e­cuted be­fore it all comes to­gether, and the canapé com­bines con­trast­ing tex­tures and tem­per­a­tures for a mo­ment of be­wil­der­ment.

“I be­came very com­fort­able long ago with do­ing dishes that aren’t for ev­ery­one,” says Lee. “It’s not about do­ing safe food. What’s the point of keep­ing some­one in their seat for three hours, charg­ing them a lot of money, mak­ing them wait to dine, just to do some­thing that’s very pre­dictable? There’s no point. For me, it’s okay to do things that aren’t for ev­ery­one, that are some­what chal­leng­ing at times, that they may not even like. I think you have to ac­cept that as a chef.” He con­cludes, “This dish is very per­sonal to me—and that’s what you go for.”

MAR­KET LEAD­ERS

Corey Lee takes a stroll with Richard Ekke­bus through Cen­tral’s his­toric Graham Street wet mar­ket

UN­DER­STATED el­e­gance

Lee’s dishes are un­mis­tak­ably Asian-in­flected, in­clud­ing (from left) his famed lob­ster coral xi­ao­long­bao, spring por­ridge with sea urchin, and thou­sand-year-old quail egg with potage and ginger

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