Chef Uwe Opochensky is no stranger to Hong Kong’s avid foodies. The German chef and restauranteur arrived in Hong Kong take over as Executive Chef of the Mandarin Oriental, where he delighted diners with his creative plates at the Mandarin Grill and The Krug Room. Next, Uwe brought gourmet burgers to Hong Kong with the Beef & Liberty franchise and the debut of Impossible Meat in the city. His next venture was an eponymous restaurant on Hollywood Road.
However, Uwe shut down his restaurant in summer when the Shangri-La came calling. The hotel chain clearly made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, because he jumped at the chance to revamp the dining scene at the Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong. Restuarant Petrus and the Lobster Bar & Grill are stalwarts of Hong Kong’s dining scene, but with his tenure, Uwe hopes to inject some fun and innovation at these popular restaurants. He’s clearly already made his mark. Petrus was awarded one star in the 2020 Michelin Guide in November 2019. We talked to Uwe over a sublime meal at Restaurant Petrus to see what diners can expect.
How did you get into food and cooking?
I got my inspiration for food and cooking through my mother and grandmother. I was involved in the kitchen from a very young age. I started by making Christmas cookies…and never looked back.
What training did you do to becoming a chef?
I began my career as a young apprentice at the Gasthof zum Hemberg in Germany. Afterward, I attended a training programme under Anton Mosimann, at his private dining club in London. I was given the opportunity to cook for various celebrities and governors – including the Queen and Prince Charles – over the years to build up my skills and prepare for further challenges.
What do you think are the most important attributes for a chef?
Repetition and reputation. It’s all about the relationship between the chef and his customers. Being able to consistently bring quality food to guests builds word-of-mouth and that eventually creates recognition and reputation for the chef.
What makes a good dish?
First and foremost, it’s the ingredients.
What influences your cooking style?
Everything around me in my daily life, from art and music to wine and fashion. It all keeps me thinking and inspired.
What do you consider to be the standout moments or most important experiences of your career?
My career is not done yet! There’s much more to come, so it’s difficult to identify which has been my most important experience at this stage!
What’s your process for creating a dish?
First, I choose quality ingredients. Then, I think about sourcing, do some trial-and-error testing, build the recipe, and keep refining it.
Sustainability is becoming an increasing concern. Is this on your radar?
Yes, absolutely. I have always been quite keen on this. I often do research to see if there is any new technology or initiative going on in other parts of the world.
What are you doing about it?
On the ingredients side, I work with local farmers to source sustainable products. I’m also a founding member of Food Made Good, an international programme for sustainability in the food service sector. I have also introduced ORCA, an innovative food waste handling solution, to the hotel. With ORCA, we collect the food waste from all the hotel’s restaurants and pour it into a machine that breaks down the waste and turns it into a liquid that can safely flow into the sewage system. This helps us cut down food waste by almost 50%.
You were responsible for bringing Impossible Meat to Hong Kong. Why was this important?
We need to find alternatives to animal protein as we will not be able to change to cater for the growing demand. I find Impossible Meat an amazing option to balance our future diet without compensating the beloved taste and texture of meat. Providing healthier meals while retaining the deliciousness is a huge part of our duty as chefs.
Restaurant Petrus is a stalwart of Hong Kong’s dining scene. Do you intend to stay true to its roots or shake things up a bit?
We are definitely keeping the heritage. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t be creative, too. A lot of the preparations in the kitchen that diners don’t see are processed in traditional methods while the combinations of ingredients are reimagined in an innovative way to improve the guest dining experience.
How are you designing the food and menus at Restaurant Petrus?
Well, you have to come to try to understand it. I think our loyal patrons understand who I am and I think they know what to expect and what I stand for. The key us to position Restaurant Petrus alongside the best restaurants in Hong Kong. Therefore, when designing the menus for Restaurant Petrus, I try to understand the impact of seasonal ingredients on the current market and how I can reshape the overall experience from start to finish. I then look at what hasn’t been done yet in the market in order to mold the experience to be exclusive to Restaurant Petrus.
The Lobster Bar & Grill is also a local favourite – any hints about what you intend to do there?
We will keep on refining the current a la carte menu without changing it too drastically. Our frequent customers love to see the dishes that they love every time they visit.
What do you hope guests take away from their dining experiences at the Island Shangri-La?
I hope whoever has dined in our restaurants can say that they had an amazing time here with excellent service, great food and drinks. I hope that whenever they want to have another great meal, we’re their first thought.
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