From The Ocean To The Orchard, The Provenance Of Ingredients That Inspire A Top Chef
Richard Ekkebus is not feeling well. The combination of a late night of whisky, an all-too-hastily eaten convenience store sandwich and the churn of the swelling seas threatens to turn his stomach inside out. We’re zipping through the chilly, rocky waters of the Genkai-nada sea off the northern coast of Fukuoka prefecture, swaddled in winter gear and bright orange lifejackets, eager to see the fishermen who are about to haul in the day’s harvest of Spanish mackerel by hand.
The workers appear in the distance, small figures clothed in bright yellow, green, blue and purple—vital pops of colour to easily identify them should they topple into the deep and unforgiving indigo waters. Our speedboat stops about 80 meters away; the engine switches off, and all that’s left is the sound of the waves and the anticipatory squawking of seagulls hungry for their morning meal. And then, of a nauseated Ekkebus succumbing to “feed the fish”.
It is not at all easy, being out at sea. And to see how these Japanese fishermen spend their lives—nay, risk their lives—to supply the world’s insatiable appetite for seafood is a sobering moment. Yet above all it is a beautiful reminder of how, on trips like these, chefs like Ekkebus are able to see upfront the hard labour that goes into sourcing the ingredients that will eventually end up on the plate—not only at Amber, the chef’s award-winning restaurant in The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, but also at Taste of Hong Kong, where Ekkebus will be presenting a Spanish mackerel dish that celebrates their provenance.
“The fish will give you a taste of really, really hard work in the most difficult circumstances,” he says. “Being on the sea, on a small day fisher boat, is extremely physical. The nets are pulled in by hand.” Soon after, the mackerel are shipped straight to Nagahama Fish Market in the heart of Fukuoka City—even before they are transported to Tsukiji in Tokyo.
“When we walked through the markets, it was very clear that both buri and Spanish mackerel were at the park of their season,” Ekkebus explains. He has been working with the former for a long time, but it was the mackerel that the chef more recently took a shine to. “It’s beautifully fatty because of the cold water they are swimming in right now. It’s a fish that is very reflective of the season.”
The fish will give you a taste of really, really hard work in the most difficult circumstances.
— Richard Ekkebus
To complement the intense, oily fish, Ekkebus sought inspiration from a rather unusual fruit from Miyazaki, a location less than an hour’s flight from Fukuoka. The plump, sunshine-yellow hyuganatsu citrus is the pride of the prefecture, where smiling cartoon depictions of the fruit adorn everything from bottles of barbecue sauces tinged with the sweet-sour juice to t-shirts. It has a delicate aroma, less zippy than its more popular ancestor yuzu, but beguiling in its own way. Rather unusually, the fluffy white pith is cotton candy-sweet; a solid contrast to its tart, lemony flesh. “I still remember today the smell I had on my hands after touching the hyuganatsu,” Ekkebus recalls. “The smell of the citrus oil just sets in your mind.”
They say that scent is memory, and it could not be more true for those of us who were fortunate to have traveled with Ekkebus to experience firsthand the beauty of the produce that inspire the DNA of Amber. We'll remember the salty tang of the ocean air mixing with the unmistakeable combination of gasoline and rubber will take us back to the Genkai-nada sea; the earthiness of soil and damp winter air mixing with the citrusy mist from a freshly picked and peeled hyuganatsu. But perhaps most importantly, these memories will serve to remind us of the work that goes into the world of dining, as best put by Ekkebus himself:
“Everything that we bring to this beautiful industry is the fruit of extremely hard labour…and a lot of passion.”
Try Spanish Mackerel and Hyuganatsu This March
Richard Ekkebus has designed a unique dish of line-caught Spanish mackerel with Miyazaki hyuganatsu that will be served at Taste of Hong Kong. Guests will have a chance to try the dish and attend a workshop where they will meet the producers behind the ingredients. Each session includes a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne.
Taste of Hong Kong runs from March 16 to 19 on the Central Harbourfront. For tickets, please visit hongkong.tastefestivals.com
Richard Ekkebus In Conversation With Fukuoka Mayor Soichiro Takashima
In the video above, Richard met with Soichiro Takashima, the Mayor of Fukuoka City, to talk about the beauty of Kyushu ingredients and the stringent quality control that goes into ensuring each export is top notch.
This series would not be possible without the support of JA Miyazaki and the City of Fukuoka.