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Beef & Liberated: Mandarin Oriental executive chef quits to flip burgers

It’s been a month since Uwe Opocensky officially left the Mandarin Oriental and swapped avant garde dollops of pureed seaweed for burger flipping at Beef Liberty.

The group executive chef for The Great China Restaurant Company is already busy in his new job, with many new projects on his proverbial plate.

“I’d been at the Mandarin Oriental for an amazing nine and a half years and I could have continued being the chef there, but I wanted a change,” he says at the new Beef Liberty at California Tower in Lan Kwai Fong.

He explained he has known the owners of Beef Liberty for over a dozen years and they began talking last summer about new concepts. In November 2015 they asked him to join and it was an opportunity Opocensky didn’t want to pass up.

“As group executive chef of Beef Liberty I’m one of four who make decisions and I’m more free. It’s more about taking away the layers of bureaucracy and having fun, not that I didn’t have fun at the Mandarin,” he says.

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With the burger chain’s newest restaurant being in Lan Kwai Fong, it was only natural that it have a strong bar concept, and bar manager Pawel Mikusek was lured from Lily Bloom to establish a cocktail menu that will include light beer cocktails next month.

Opocensky complements the drinks with a bar snack menu – of dishes such as pork crackling, an indulgent chicken liver parfait, crispy olives and sausage rolls.

Every six weeks or so there will be a “monthly” special burger and this week he has just rolled out one called Lambo, featuring eight-hour slow-cooked lamb shoulder with mint, cabbage and parsley salad, together with pickled chillis, pickled radish and a hot sauce mayonnaise.

He is also creating what he thinks will be the ultimate burger, though it will only be available by invitation, and then in limited numbers each day.

Just like in the hotel, the German chef is also keen to attract new talent and train and mentor them through the ranks. “I enjoy teaching young kids and giving them opportunities to grow.”

Another reason Opocensky is happy to be aligned with Beef Liberty is its philosophy of sustainability; it only uses hormone-free, grass-fed beef, and purifies and carbonates its own drinking water to reduce the amount of water imported to Hong Kong.

“We are looking into farming in Hong Kong, talking to local producers,” he says. “We are a Hong Kong brand. We’re a community. As an individual we can run fast, but together as a community we can go further.”

While the burger chain already has one outlet in Shanghai, there are plans to expand further in the region. Though Opocensky is not revealing many details for now, he is developing a new restaurant concept that will be launched in Hong Kong with a view to opening in other locations.

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“It’s still raw, but with a bit more elevation. It’ll be seafood, lobster and crab. I think there is a demand for high-end food, but in a more relaxed environment – no tablecloth, interactive and personal. I want to create the feeling of being in someone’s home.”

However, Opocensky does admit he will miss chasing Michelin stars now that he has walked away from the oldest five-star hotel on Hong Kong Island. “Without the Mandarin I would not be where I am today. And I’m very grateful, but at one point it’s time to step to the side and see where it takes you. And I’m super excited for the possibilities.

“It was one the hardest things for me, to leave the Michelin stars at the door, being the executive chef of a five-star luxury brand. But with my concepts I will definitely go for the stars – I’d like to, but I don’t think you need tablecloths for it. Whatever comes my way, comes my way.

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“I’ve tried so many years to get two Michelin stars, and it never happened for whatever reason, so I had my shot at it. For me it’s a barometer of who you are. I’ve lost the Michelin star, but hopefully when I’m in my own environment, they will look at me again. But on the other hand I just want to have fun.”