Interview with executive chef Uwe Opocensky of Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong

Uwe Opocensky has an impressive resume: trained at the much-lauded El Bulli and became the head chef at Anton Mosimann’s private dining rooms at the young age of 23, he cooked for The Queen, The Prince of Wales, Bill Clinton, etc. Opocensky describes his signature style as “progressive gastronomy”. This week, he shares with us his passion & philosophy in gastronomy and his special truffle dish pair with Champagne.


What is your training and background?

I first entered the restaurant industry through an apprentice program with Gasthof zum Hemberg. I then trained with [Michelin-starred chef] Anton Mosimann in the UK and within two years, I became Head Chef, staying there for nine years. After working in London I became the manager of culinary operations for The Anassa Hotel group, Cyprus. From Cyprus I came to Hong Kong, joining the Shangri-La Hotel group but while here, I had a crazy idea to work at [three Michelin-starred restaurant] El Bulli. I didn’t expect to get in, but I did, and it became one of the most important experiences in my career. I spent six months working under master chef Ferran Adria at world-renowned El Bulli and it was a life-changing experience. Today, I am Executive Chef at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, which is something I had set my heart on. So when I got the call from them, I jumped at the opportunity… and, well, the rest is history!


You are a Michelin-starred chef. What does cooking mean to you?

Getting that star is every chef’s dream and it was my dream for a long time. I wanted always to be able to take people out of their gastronomic comfort zones, or out of their usual expectations of what food is and should be. Food for me is more an experience: I’ve always wanted to create a bit of theatre, emotion, smell, sounds…everything together. Ferran [Adria] helped me to achieve this. I could never be him, nor could I be an Alain Ducasse. They are all geniuses in their own way, but I wanted to find my own path and be recognised for who I am as a chef. My time at El Bulli gave me the key that unlocked the door to who I am as a chef today.


So how do you describe your cuisine?

Well, I thought I’d take the best of both worlds and produce food that has visual impact, but with classical flavours that anyone can understand – there should be a link back to a recognizable level of comfort. I like to describe my cuisine as ‘progressive gastronomy’. It is a name I use to describe my food or my idea of food. Everybody always wants to put chefs into boxes for what they do: for example, Ferran and Heston [Blumenthal] are the ‘molecular chefs’; Ducasse and Robuchon are the ‘ French classicists’. ‘Progressive gastronomy’ is just a name I use for my food – ‘progressive’ because I’m constantly looking for and researching new techniques and ingredients (I have the best cooking laboratory in Hong Kong!) and ‘gastronomy’ meaning high cuisine, or food with a certain level of sophistication.


What is your favourite way of pairing truffles with Krug?

The first time I tried Krug’s Grande Cuvee I was stunned. It was so bold, rich and elegant. The same, in many senses, can be said about truffles: they are so potent and still refined. So then, I decided to create something to celebrate both of them in a simple, yet surprising way. I created the black truffle croque monsieur and I use a buttery brioche, a béchamel of black truffles, slices of truffles in there and a beautiful cured ham with light cheese to give some texture and balance. The flavours are just amazing. It is a match made in heaven! I’m now in the process of creating a complete truffle menu from A to Z, starting with a white truffle Parmesan that we’ll grate at the table for you, as well as a white fish like a lovely turbot. It will also go with veal – I’m hoping to keep an ‘all white’ theme. With my pastry chef, Yves, we’ve done a white truffle soufflé – not sweet – served with an olive oil ice cream. It is stunning. Just stunning! 


You have cooked for some big names. Can you tell us who they are and who made you the most nervous?

I have cooked for a lot of famous people. Off the top of my head… The Queen, The Prince of Wales, Take That, Bill Clinton, No. 10 Downing Street, Stevie Wonder… but the truth is that whether I’m cooking for someone famous or not, the pressure is as intense. I always want to give them the best that I can. I want to offer them the best of my abilities as a chef.


Interviewed by Sooni Shroff-Gander


Truffle Croque Monsieur
Created by Executive Chef, Uwe Opocensky & served at the Mandarin Oriental Grill+Bar, Hong Kong
Makes 2 portions

2 slices Brioche
15g Butter
35g Flour
500g Milk
5g Sea salts
10g Cooked ham
15 pcs Truffle slice
90g Chopped truffle
15g Gruyere
3g Chopped chives
5g Truffle zest

For bechamel
Gently melt butter over low heat. Add flour over medium heat, stirring vigorously to make a smooth glossy paste. Add milk a little at a time, always whisking briskly. When milk is completely incorporated, add chopped truffle and blend it in a thermomix at 80 degrees for five minutes. Season with saw salt.
For Brioche
Slice 0.8cm thick. Cut into 8cm X 10am sized pieces. Only toast one inner side of brioche.
Layer croque monsieur’s follows: brioche, black truffle béchamel, Gruyere, cooked ham, truffle slice, black truffle, béchamel and brioche. Pan fry croque monsieur at low heat until surface is browned and crispy;cheese inside should be a little runny.
To serve
Cut croque monsieur into half. Garnish with chopped chives and truffle zest using a mircoplane.

Reprinted with permission from Financial Times.