The way of modern cuisine which Richard Ekkebus pursues
You’re not French, how do you think it’d affected you in making French cuisine?
If you would like to be an astronaut and go to the moon, do you need to be born in Houston (where NASA’s base is located)? Nowadays, there are astronauts who were born in China. It’s no point to think that a French cuisine chef needs to be a French. If you’re not Chinese, you can still speak Chinese. Everyone can interpret the language, everyone can understand the cuisine.
You’ve learned the importance of storytelling from Gagnaire. What is the story that you would like to tell?
I’m using Japanese produce, but I’m not using Japanese cooking technique except stock making process. My cuisine is French cuisine. Regarding the seasoning, I only use soy sauce as a secret ingredient but I’m not using very Japanese ingredients, such as wasabi.
For example, if you hear about Escoffier, everyone would imagine “Classic French”. But, if you open his old cookbook, you’ll find that Escoffier learned how to use Indian spices from Indian chefs, and used curry spices to his dishes. He opened his mind and shaped his story. So of course, I can use Japanese stock in my French cuisine.
If someone said, my cuisine is not authentic, what is authentic? If Escoffier used curry and still authentic, people cannot say mine is not just because I’m using Japanese dashi. This is my concept.
We have the freedom to express, so you can just make your story. Of course, there are purists, and I respect that. But I’m a child of a global world, and this is my story that reflects my life history.
From that point of view, how should cuisine in the future be like?
In the modern world, it is not rational to eat the dishes using a lot of salt and butter like in Escoffier recipe. French cuisine itself is changing. For example, Yannick Alléno, who leads modern French cuisine is also open to the new things.
He’s using Japanese products such as wasabi, he’s making new light stock using cold clarification method, to freeze the vegetable stock and extract the essence, which is also used in our restaurant, Amber, as well.
In my opinion, modern cuisine needs to be feminine and doesn’t cause food coma.
Hence, in my restaurant, I hardly use butter and cream. Our lifestyle had changed. In the ancient countryside in France, people did mainly physical work. But nowadays, work has changed to be in front of the computer. Light, healthy, and doesn’t take much time to eat. This is the way the modern cuisine is going, I think.
In the past, it was common to dine for 4-5 hours, but in a modern world with so many entertainment choices now, the diners prefer to complete the 9-dish course within 1.5 hours.
In addition, you cannot forget the product itself is tastier because breeding has improved over time. If you could grill the meat in a perfect way like grilling with Binchotan (Japanese charcoal), the meat contains much Umami and juiciness, you don’t have to add sauce.
How will the future world become? Think about cuisine in 2020’s.
What is your future target?
Next summer, Amber will be closed for renovation for 3 to 4 months, so I’m focusing on it. Amber has been successful for the past 12 years, so I’m imagining how the world in the next 12 years would be and how can Amber be successful in that world.
For example, thinking about how the world would be like in the 2020’s. We wash table linen which is not that dirty all the time and that causes pollution.
Will it be necessary for the restaurant in the future? I’m always thinking about something like that. I want my restaurant to be sustainable.
I’m interested in tea pairing. At first, I’ve tried it since Amber is located in China where there is a culture of a tea ceremony. However, at that time, diners said they didn’t feel like drinking tea in a French restaurant. They don’t have much fundamental to appreciate it. But times have changed. Not everyone is taking alcohol drinks. People are making healthier choices now. It would be nice to finish the meal with Japanese matcha made with the Japanese way of tea or even Chinese tea ceremony and pairing. Tea helps with digestion and it is healthy as well.
Then, when I turn 60, I’m planning to retire and go fishing all day long.
The last question, what is the ideal team for you? How would you like to train the younger generation?
Some young chefs who have trained in my kitchen started getting Michelin star. For me, nothing made me happier than that as I feel my legacy is succeeded.
I think restaurants need to be evolving. To train the younger generation, two factors are important, that is coaching and training as a mentor. You need to be strict but at the same time, the kitchen needs to be fun. If it is not fun, it would be very difficult to concentrate for 14 hours a day.
When you search on the internet, there is so much information. I would like to teach something that cannot be found on the internet.
For example, the team spirit. Everyone understands the responsibility and work as a team. This cannot be learned from internet nor books. This is the thing you only learn from actual experience.
I was so lucky to meet the great people whom I can call as mentors. Recently, I often hear that the younger generation doesn’t have a capacity for endurance. I would like to tell the younger generation that doesn’t move from one restaurant to another within a few months. It is important to work with the mentor whom you could have a mutual understanding with, for at least 3 years.
I will think about how to evolve the restaurant sustainably. I also want to hand over what I’d received before to the younger generation.
(Interviewer, writer, photographer: Kyoko Nakayama , Food picture provided by the restaurant)