Hong Kong's 'Demon Chef' Alvin Leung Discusses the Significance of Cafe Bau's Homegrown Philosophy
When one sports a provocative title such as the 'Demon Chef of Hong Kong', it would come as no surprise that Alvin Leung is a culinary figure who needs little introduction to the Hong Kong food scene. The city's favourite trailblazing, controversial chef who thrives on breaking the boundaries of gastronomy is back with another restaurant replacing the former location of his renowned Michelin-starred Bo Innovation on Ship Street and it goes by the name of Cafe Bau.
The launch of this latest venture declares their one ardent ambition loudly and clearly: to innovate and showcase the resounding roots of Hong Kong's distinct cuisine and flavours all the way from farm to table. Even in it's name, BAU is taken from Hong Kong's national 'bauhinia flower', a symbol and a promise of the establishment's commitment to food that is born, nurtured and sublimated locally.
Due to the fact we live in an increasingly globalised world with perpetual access to wherever and whatever, Cafe Bau's team has taken the initiative to set an example and pave the path towards encouraging consumption and the use of more local, homegrown produce as well as advocating for partnerships between local restaurants and suppliers to achieve a more sustainable supply chain.
From hydroponic vegetables that are grown in Wong Chuk Hang and rice harvested from Lantau Island's Yi O Farm to prime poultry sourced from the northern New Territories and signature regional sauces distributed from our city's own favourite labels, every diner can expect the most authentic taste of Hong Kong right down to the source, that comes with a refined, innovative twist on each dish.
For natives of the city who yearn for the irreplaceable and nostalgic delicacies and desserts that were established and immortalised during an era prior to the turn of the century and the whirlwind developments of this city, they may particularly rejoice at the unique opportunity of enjoying classic childhood flavours reinvigorated and translated into a fine dining experience.
The restaurant itself is set in a contemporary chic space full of striking dark wooden tones, expansive windows that draw in natural light and an entrance corridor adorned with original local artwork all created by artists based in Hong Kong.
Here, we interviewed Chef Alvin Leung on what inspired the birth of Cafe Bau.
What is the philosophy behind Cafe Bau's concept?
Cafe Bau is dedicated to using the highest amount of locally sourced ingredients – almost 100% – in order to reduce its carbon footprint on the planet and provide an exceptional farm-to-table dining experience. We work with several local farms and purveyors including Lam Tsuen honey, Pat Chun sweet vinaigrette and Kowloon Dairy Co. Ltd. for fresh milk, etc. Each local supplier is unique to itself and we chose them as we believe they all represent Hong Kong’s iconic flavours the best.
So, just to give you an idea: The Ping Yuen Yellow Chicken with Morel and Black Termite Mushrooms and Homegrown Rice features Ping Yuen yellow chicken that are raised in the New Territories free of antibiotics and added growth hormones, boasting flavoursome meat and a rich layer of fat underneath the skin that yields tender, succulent bites.
Matched with mushrooms and aromatic locally grown and sundried rice from the Yi O Farm on Lantau Island, this dish makes for a hearty and well-rounded sharing dish – made in Hong Kong, for Hong Kong.
From where or what do you draw inspiration for your menus and dishes?
There were a few elements that inspired me to bring to life Cafe Bau – a farm-to-table concept that celebrates local ingredients. After one of our latest Masterchef Canada series which focused on the importance of sustainability in the F&B scene and how everyone has to do their part to reduce the carbon footprint, I felt the importance of raising awareness for the environmental impact the F&B industry has on our planet.
Moreover, the birth of my grandson also inspired me to create a better future for him, and with Cafe Bau, I can do my part. This is why I joined forces with our local farming partners who share the same passion and vision of reducing the carbon footprint and showing our diners what Hong Kong has to offer, because great taste does not require imported ingredients. We have exceptional, highest quality produce right here, and this is what we are proud of!
So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re excited to continue exploring our local-centric menu to further our mission of sustainability, reducing environmental impact from the carbon-intensive transportation process.
Regarding the name ‘Cafe Bau’ – it derives from the iconic emblem of Hong Kong, the Bauhinia flower. It’s symbolic of the restaurant’s commitment to food that is born, nurtured, and sublimated locally. Besides, the name signifies a hopeful return to “Business As Usual” in the wake of global post-pandemic recovery.
How would you describe your personal signature cuisine?
As of now, the most popular dishes are the Hand-cut Penne Cacio e Pepe with Preserved Clams and Yellow Chicken Wings. The sauce I use is enlivened by fresh, briny preserved clams from the local market. Also, a main course that's gained great popularity is the Ping Yuen Yellow Chicken – brined overnight in coconut milk – with Morel and Black Termite Mushrooms and Homegrown Rice.
Lastly, how did you earn your nickname, the 'Demon Chef?'
It’s like tattoos, nicknames are permanent and should remain relevant for a lifetime. Some people ask “has the demon tamed in his old age?”. The answer is no, because the demon was never meant to be a beast. It stands for a playful spirit with no harm to anyone. As the years pass, I feel I have become more playful as certain freedom allows me to be so.
All imagery above provided by LUBUDS Group.
CSP Times had the pleasure to sample a few dishes from Cafe Bau's wonderfully crafted menu and here are our writers' highlights from the experience!
There are several notable dishes available on the menu at Cafe Bau that represent the best of what's on offer. This includes the Beetroot and Corn appetiser served with Pat Chun sweet vinaigrette and cheese made from Kowloon Dairy milk. What stands out about this particular creation is that the vegetables featured in this dish are sourced from Hong Kong's finest hydroponics vegetable farm in Wong Chuk Hang, AquaGreen, making this dish a 100% locally produced culinary creation.
Additionally, the Farm to Table Pork Terrine that is brought over from Yuen Long makes for a gorgeous conceptual dish that features locally heralded sweet and sour flavours from the piccalilli relish to the honey-dressed vegetables. The Oxen Tartare is a remarkable dish that engulfs the senses with umami magic from a dreamy saucy combination of oysters sourced from Lau Fau Shan and the creamy, sweet goodness of Sabayon which coats the chived-smattered, fatty oxen tartare.
We also certainly can't leave out the showstopper Yellow Chicken farmed from Fanling's Ping Yuen Chicken Farm renowned for their vibrant golden yellow skin, preservative-free upbringings and undeniable succulence that their tender meat yields! The yellow chicken is brined overnight in coconut milk to allow the meat to reach it's full potential of juiciness and it is cooked altogether with rosemary, lemongrass, pandan leaf, rice from Yi O Farms in the middle and morel and termite mushrooms. The result is a mouthwatering, aromatic entrée sporting a second to none golden crispiness to the chicken skin and tender and flavourful white meat within that is accompanied with browned, fragrant rice.
No dinner is complete without a sweet treat to round off the evening and we were enchanted by the wholly unique creation of Stem Ginger Gelato and Aromatic Poached Pear. This beautiful final course blends the gentle and pine-like spice of galangal and five spice with the refreshing softness of a delicate, chilled poached pear. Hong Kongers will be delighted by the nostalgic sensation of revisiting the locally beloved flavours of the ginger milk curd pudding dessert.
Address: Shop 8, Podium 1/F, J Residence, 60 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong | Website: lubuds.com/cafe-bau-wan-chai | Phone: +852 2126 7212 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org| Instagram: @cafebau.hk| Facebook: @cafebau.hk