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One chef, one ingredient: Richard Ekkebus on sea urchin

If you are what you eat, then it could be said that chefs are what they cook. This week, Richard Ekkebus of the two Michelin-starred eatery Amber in Hong Kong shares his love for sea urchin.

Why did you choose this ingredient?

Richard Ekkebus: From the first time I tried it while working at Guy Savoy, I fell in love with it. The taste is incomparable. It has a strong iodized and outspoken taste. Either you love it or you hate it. But I grew up on oysters and mussels in Holland so I loved it immediately.

What’s your favorite memory or anecdote associated with the product?

R.E. : When I was a kid, I was stung by a sea urchin when I stepped on one while on holiday in the Mediterranean. As a five-year-old, I found them intriguing as I didn’t have them growing up as a kid in Holland. I saw them as a nuisance more than a delicacy. When I learned that you could eat them it was a revelation.

When is the ingredient in season?

R.E. : In Japan, sea urchin is in season April to September. Red sea urchin is in season October to May in Canada, and in Europe, roughly the same period, October to April. Sea urchin season in Maine -- the largest supplier on the US east coast -- is September to March.

What’s the best way to prepare or cook it?

R.E. : The nice thing about sea urchin is that it’s very versatile. You can serve it cooked or raw, which is the way I prefer. I think it’s simple and elegant.

What other foods and ingredients does it pair best with?

R.E. : You could also make a simple omelet out of it. The eggs provide a neutral vehicle for the outspoken taste and texture of the sea urchin, making it a great combination.

What are some tips for preparing this ingredient?

R.E. : First of all, you need a good pair of scissors. With the point of the scissors, open the beak and cut a hole. Eliminate the intestines. Scoop out the roe only at the last minute because as soon as you start to manipulate it, it starts to bleed.

Do you serve it in your restaurant and in what dish?

R.E. : One of our signature dishes is the Hokkaido sea urchin appetizer, made with cooked cauliflower, raw sea urchin, pure caviar, lobster jell-O, and crispy seaweed waffles. What makes it interesting is all the different textures. It’s pleasant for the palate and has a great mouthfeel.

Which wine goes best with this ingredient?

R.E. : A Gewürztraminer, something crisp and elegant, or a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

Dutch chef Richard Ekkebus boasts a string of international accolades for his restaurant Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong, including two Michelin stars; the top spot in Hong Kong Tatler’s Best Restaurants 2013 for best restaurant in Hong Kong and Macau; the No. 4 spot in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards; and the title of Restaurant of the Year in “Time Out Hong Kong.”