James Distefano

James Distefano understood he wanted to be a chef being a teenager. He grew up in New Jersey with a family that was always cooking on weekends.  

He studied in Hudson County Community College Culinary Arts Program, and after that, he had several jobs at local New Jersey restaurants. His life changed when his friend asked him to work at Park Avenue Café in New York.

At this place, Distefano assisted great Richard Leach and was eventually introduced to Chef David Burke. The Chef was impressed by Distefano’s work, and in 2003 asked him to work as the executive pastry chef at David Burke & Donatella. Working there, Distefano exhibited a remarkable ability to conceptualize and execute desserts that have since become signature items on the David Burke menu

 

In 2008 he was offered a place of executive pastry chef at Rouge Tomate, a place of a concept that was born in Belgium, this concept combines the sophistication of haute cuisine with a progressive dietary philosophy. And although he was not allowed to use much sugar and butter (which are the key ingredients to a pastry chefs), he managed to create delicious and healthy desserts that showcase a skillful combination of textures, flavors, and sweet-savory balance with an emphasis on purity of flavors.

 

As an example, here is his recipe of Gluten-Free Strawberry-Almond Frangipane, for those who care about their health but just can’t live without desserts.

Gluten-Free Strawberry-Almond Frangipane  

Ingredients:

  • 176 g granulated sugar
  • 6 g freeze-dried strawberries
  • 200 g almond paste
  • 172 g unsalted butter
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 4 eggs
  • 87 g almond flour 
  • 3.7 g xanthan gum
  • 0.5 g Madagascar vanilla powder
  • 0.5 g ground cinnamon
  • 1.6 g fine sea salt
  • 194 g dried strawberries, cut into small pieces

Steps:

  1. In an electric blender; mix the freeze-dried strawberry with the sugar and process until smooth.  
  2. Mix the almond paste and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and begin to process until both ingredients are completely combined. Add the butter and continue to cream the mixture until a batter is smooth. Mix the orange zest and the lemon zest with the eggs. Slowly add this substance to the almond paste base.
  3. Mix the almond flour, xanthan gum, vanilla powder, cinnamon, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients and the dried strawberries to the cake base and continue to mix until all ingredients will consist homogeneous mass. Store cake batter in an airtight container until you are ready to use it or place batter into individual molds (1 ¾” ring molds lightly sprayed with non-stick spray), then bake at 300°F for 16-18 minutes.
  4. Cut fresh strawberries, mix it with vanilla syrup.
  5. To serve, gently place fresh strawberries on top the cake, and put a few pieces of strawberry on the cake.

Richard Ekkebus

Richard Ekkebus is the Culinary Supervisor at Amber which is a 2 Michelin stars french restaurant located at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel – one of the most luxurious hotels in Hong Kong. He is a citizen of the Netherlands and a promising chef, who was lucky enough to work under Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Passard.  

Richard began his brilliant career with an apprenticeship in the Netherlands under Michelin- starred cooks Hans Snijders and Robert Kranenborg. There he won the Golden Chef’s Hat for “Young Chef of the Year” that reassured him to further work on his skills under such great French chefs as Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire, and Alain Passard.

Still being a relatively young chef, Richard is considered experienced and skillful, for he managed to conduct a journey from the Royal Palm in Mauritius to The Sandy Lane in Barbados. No, he wasn’t a bare tourist, he actually worked at both resorts. He became an executive chef at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in 2005. Committed to the classic French cuisine, Richard is much admired by Chinese public for his innovative ideas and fresh spirit. Therefore Amber’s cuisine can rightfully claim to be contemporary and light, even though it is based on a solid foundation of traditional French cooking.  

Richard is mostly focused on superior produce and ingredients in long-established dishes with a modern variation. He is especially proud of the superb quality of his ingredients. “There is zero compromise regarding quality,” he confirms. “At Amber, we are using the best, the freshest ingredients you can find from all over the world. Our particular emphasis is on beautiful presentations applying various food colors and textures.”

Signature dish:

Beer Cooked Mussels

This is a dish I grew up with and I have so many fond memories being surrounded by my family members with a large bowl of mussels. It is the signature dish from the region I was born and raised. No cutlery is served to eat the mussels, as an empty shell serves your tongue. Mussels are eaten with crusty sourdough bread spread with salted butter only. Pair the mussels with a good lager!

Ingredients:

2kg Mussels preferably from Zeeland, Holland, cleaned and beards removed

200g Butter, unsalted

60 gr Leeks, shredded

60g shallots, peeled, cut in half & shredded

4 sprigs thyme

4 fresh bay leaves

White pepper from the mill

250ml white Beer

240g Crème Fraiche

1 lemon, juice & rind

1 lime, juice & rind

1 tablespoon Tarragon, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon Italian Parsley coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon Chervil, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon Lemon verbena, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon Chives, finely chopped

Steps:

In a heavy saucepan with a lid melt the butter till blond, add shallots, garlic, leek, bay leaves & thyme.

Sweat 3 minutes without coloring, deglaze with the beer, then add the cream and a little white pepper.

Add the mussels and toss in the cream sauce. Cover the pan and toss the mussels constantly until all are cooked and opened (this will take 2 to 3 minutes).

With a spider, remove the cooked mussels and place them in a warm large bowl.  

Return the cooking juice to the stove, check the seasoning and add pepper if needed.

Brighten the cooking juice with lemon juice and emulsify with the handheld blender. Add little butter if needed.

Add the garden herbs and spoon the foamy sauce over the mussels. Grate the lemon & lime peel with a micro-blade over the mussels.

To Finish:

Serve with crusty sourdough bread and salted butter only.