When Petrus clinched one star in the MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2020, it caught Uwe Opocensky by surprise. The executive chef of the Island Shangri-La Hong Kong had only been appointed as the restaurant's head chef in September 2019, just three months prior to the guidebook's launch.
“We have never expected to be awarded with a MICHELIN star this year. Whether we gain one, two or three stars, it is always something worth celebrating.” says Opocensky.
His pursuit of excellence for Petrus does not stop there. Rather, he is uncompromising when it comes to the adherence to high culinary standards, “There is great potential in Petrus and we are on track to be one of the top three restaurants in Hong Kong.”
Stars, after all, are nothing new to the restaurant. Petrus debuted with one MICHELIN star in the inaugural 2009 edition of the MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau and was elevated to two stars the year after. It remained in the recommended list in the years since.
The Pursuit of Greater Potential
Under the steady hands of Opocensky. The German chef entered the kitchen at the age of 14 where he started with the task of coring cherries. He was fascinated by the vibrant atmosphere of the kitchen and it was then when he set his sights on becoming a great chef. He later worked in London under celebrity chef Anton Mosimann before joining Hong Kong's Aberdeen Marina Club in 2004 as the executive chef.
During his time at the club, he applied for a guest chef spot at the world-renowned three MICHELIN-starred El Bulli and stood out among 5,000 candidates to be invited to be one of its eight guest chefs for half a year.
In 2006, he became the executive chef of Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. He joined the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hong Kong the year after and stayed with the group for nine years before becoming a partner of Beef & Liberty. In 2017, he opened his first restaurant, Uwe. Last September, he decided to join the Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong. Despite the swift decision, he believed that the hotel had an ambition to pursue greater potential, which was in line with his ideals.
"For 28 years, Petrus has been established as the hotel's flagship, with luxurious interiors and consistent culinary standards. I hope to bring the restaurant's service and cuisine to a higher standard. I am a member of this family and I want to contribute to the development of this restaurant and grow as a chef at the same time."
Opocensky gradually realised his expectations after joining Petrus. He has successively launched new dish creations, each one emphasising seasonality, focus and storytelling. One of the new dishes, Big Prawn, is an ingredient-focused creation in which Spanish carabinero prawns are lightly roasted to reflect the beauty of simplicity.
In another dish, Beetroot, Opocensky fashions a cold cut platter out of the earthy vegetable. Opocensky came up with the method of air-drying the beetroots and shaping them into roses after six months of experimenting. This dish is reminiscent of Italian dried beef Bresaola and is served with pepper leaves, which was sourced by Opocensky with help from local producers and farmers. The dessert, Snickers, is created by deconstructing his favourite chocolate and adding autumn elements.
As for the restaurant's service, Opocensky encourages his team to maintain frequent interaction with guests — a practice he also embraces.
"Guests today expect to meet the chef who prepared their food. I believe this makes the dining experience more complete. I really enjoy introducing my guests to my dishes by having more social interaction with them," he explains.
His future plans are to put in more effort to not only maintain the one MICHELIN-star but hopefully earn more stars. "I am a very motivated person. Our goal is to make progress every day. Every change we make will be to make the restaurant better," he shares.
We invite chef Opocensky to tell us more about his restaurant's Michelin-starred journey.
What was your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide?
My first encounter with the Guide was 33 years ago, when I was a kitchen apprentice in Germany. I bought my first copy of MICHELIN guide, hoping to attain more inspiration from the starred restaurants.
What was it like when your restaurant received a MICHELIN star for the first time?
I felt excited and humble at the same time.
How did you celebrate?
I opened a bottle of beautiful Krug Champagne with my team. This award is the result of the whole team’s effort and I wanted to celebrate with everyone for them to feel a part of the success. We are all motivated towards achieving greater heights.
As a chef, what does having a MICHELIN star mean to you?
A MICHELIN star shows recognition to the restaurant and there is greater expectation from guests. Now the responsibility is on us, this positive energy will push us further.
Do you have any advice for young chefs aiming for MICHELIN stars?
My suggestion is that they should join restaurants that have already achieved their stars and learn from there. Then they should discover their own style and study hard along the way.