Hong Kong Demon Chef Alvin Leung Opens New Concept Cafe Bau in Wan Chai
Hong Kong Demon Chef Alvin Leung is opening his latest restaurant Café Bau in Wan Chai, offering farm-to-table course meals with Hong Kong inspired flavours.
January 13, 2023
Asia is one food-crazy continent! We take great care to pick restaurants based on culinary vibes, rankings on international gourmand guides, mentions in magazines, Instagramability, and added hunger. Yes, Chef! features the region’s chefs' stories of love and labour in kitchens that has made some of our restaurants the next big thing in Asia.
Chef-owner Alex Fargas speaks his words with a warm Barcelona accent and cooks with his heart. He is proud of his eight years of promoting Spanish cuisine in the SAR with La Paloma restaurant, located in a cosy terraced floor above in Sai Ying Pun.
Arriving in Beijing at only 26 years old, Fargas celebrates more than 13 years of service. He acts as unofficial culinary ambassador to his homeland of Spain, delivering the savoury notes of paella, jamon, pimientos, patatas bravas, and gazpacho to a region starved of the cuisine.
Following an extensive rehaul to La Paloma, its first in its eight years of life, Alex chats to The Beat Asia about his life goal to promote Spanish cuisine, involvement at top Michelin-starred restaurants in his youth, why Hong Kong needs Spain, and the future for La Paloma.
I hated school but loved food when I was young [laughs]! In my hometown of Barcelona, I was not so happy with school, but when I began at culinary school to explore a different career as a teenager, I became obsessed with cooking.
I graduated from school, working at Hoffmann, the former world’s best restaurant, in partnership with the Le Cordon Bleu. I went on to work at La Alqueria restaurant in the east [of Spain] and Mare Nostrum in Beijing.
The reasons why we [chefs] come to Hong Kong [and China] will all be very different. In 2007, as a Spanish chef, there were not that many Spanish people here in the region. As a 23-year-old, I decided to leave [for] China!
I love eating and travelling, so I thought it was a good job to do both. I took my things and stayed with my sister for three months, who was studying for an MBA in Beijing. Us chefs from Europe or America have a wonder [for] the world. We want to see where our dream can take us.
After moving to Shanghai in 2008, I joined chef Willy Trullàs Moreno in the Fun F&B group at his restaurant El Willy, before joining him in Hong Kong at his star restaurant Fofo by El Willy in 2010.
Our job is much more appreciated as Spanish chefs in Hong Kong. We use the best ingredients and products we can find, so our cooking is at our best. Working with Hong Kong chefs and teams can be a challenge, but a good one, as Hong Kong people have a sharp palate, and know what they like.
At La Paloma, I have worked with the same team for eight years, training and investing in them, teaching them the skills and passion for Spanish food. People don’t follow you because you are the best, or you have good skills. People follow you because you are nice, because you are their friend, and because they feel you don't give them pressure.
Working with Chef Willy, he helped me understand how to cook Spanish food for the Chinese. He gave people chopsticks to eat our food. Spanish food is all about the product and [is] very similar to Chinese food. We have communal eating and all the separate vegetables, chicken, pork, beef, rice dishes, all in the middle of the table.
Hong Kongers are well-travelled and spend well. One of the best comments I have received from a customer is; “oh, wow, your food tastes better than in Spain.”
With French and Italian cuisine, they have been selling their products and restaurants much longer [in the world] than the Spanish. French [restaurants] have this connotation of being the best cuisine in the world. Italian can be made cheap.
In Hong Kong, 90 per cent of the time, people open restaurants because of the money. When you show French cuisine or Italian cuisine, the profits are much higher than Spanish cuisine. People perceive that Spanish is not as price worthy as French. Costs increase, a skilful chef is expensive, and training for Spanish food takes a while.
But it’s the commitment and investment that's worthwhile. Today, we have around 50 Spanish restaurants in Hong Kong and growing, with some closing, but Italian restaurants could number around 2000. I predict more and more Spanish restaurants will open this year, because it’s close to Chinese food.
We are Spanish modern casual concepts and believe in the long-term business of our restaurant. We train our staff well to make the customer feel happy and comfortable. With top quality ingredients, we have created a community at La Paloma with recurring customers.
Running a restaurant is all about the small things. By focussing on the details over the years, we have built a fantastic restaurant. With our first renovation of the restaurant in eight years, we are looking forward to creating experiences much more unique to La Paloma.
I think there is a great opportunity for all the great Spanish chefs [in Hong Kong] to bridge the gap to become owners of their restaurants and open their own concepts.
Take care Rubin!
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