Wanchai Words with Bao La

Wanchai Words with Bao La

Chef Bao La has become a firm Wanchai favourite with his creative flavours at Le Garçon Saigon. He tells us about his influences and where he likes to dine.

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Foodie  Foodie Your Guide to Good Taste  on 31 Jul '16

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Can you tell us more about Saigonese cuisine and how it differs from other Vietnamese flavours? Le Garçon Saigon is a Vietnamese grill house – similar to the places you would find in and surrounding Saigon. Being in the south of Vietnam, Saigon is hot all year round – the humidity is similar to a Hong Kong summer, which perfectly suits food that is fresh and light. Because of the climate in southern Vietnam, fragrant herbs and leafy vegetables grow in abundance. We chose not to feature pho on the menu because just like how Hong Kong’s food scene is more than a bowl of wonton soup, Vietnamese food promises so much more than the classic bowl of pho. The spices and fresh nature of Vietnamese cuisine inspires me the most. Other South East Asian cuisines have fresh flavours, but Vietnamese cuisine is distinctive because of the seasoning that comes after cooking. Seafood is tossed with salts and served with an array of dipping sauces and vibrant herbs. It’s taking a beautifully fresh fish, frying or grilling it, and then adding even more flavour.

Your mother was a major influence and offered insight on the menu at Le Garçon Saigon. What is it like working with her? Mum is my inspiration and taught me everything. When opening Le Garçon Saigon, I didn’t want to do it without her on the ground in Hong Kong. She is my boss – whether offering guidance remotely, or visiting and lending her insight to our team.There is a little of Mum in all the dishes, from the rice paper rolls she taught me to roll when I was young to reviewing my recipes and checking that the flavours are precise. What features on our menu are the dishes I grew up with – the dipping sauces are our family recipe and we would never rework them. If there was one dish that was inherently her, it would be the Canh ga – fried chicken wings with spiced salt and hot sauce mayonnaise. It’s one of the most popular dishes. She taught me the importance of having family at home, and at work – we are a very tight team and eat a staff meal together every day before service – this comes from her.

You make a lot of elements from scratch (e.g. shrimp head butter). Can you tell us more about the processes you go through to get the perfect flavours? We work closely with our suppliers to source authentic Vietnamese products. Each and every day we make dishes from scratch – we pickle vegetables, create charcuterie and, in the morning, prepare a set number of Cha Gio – fried spring rolls and nuoc nam dipping sauce. Our team prepares close to a hundred of these in the morning so they have the right amount of time to ‘dry’ before service to ensure a perfectly crisp result.

What's your favourite thing to eat during your down time? In my spare time, I love to hang out with friends and eat Chinese food. I might go to one of the dai pai dongs, or for a dim sum supper after service with other chefs in the Black Sheep Restaurants family. Our schedules are very similar and it’s good to come together outside of our kitchens.

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