Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chef William "Abu" Bu aims to serve exquisite cuisine with Michelin star rating in Taipei

By Nancy T. Lu

Just like a true celebrity in the world of fine dining, chef William “Abu” Bu enjoys a loyal following in Taipei. His fans, who like his style of palate pampering, track him down wherever he goes.

The 38-year-old all-around kitchen wizard hailing originally from Hong Kong opened a 40-seat restaurant close to the Jenai Circle in Taipei in April this year to the delight of Taipei gourmets. In just a few months’ time, Abu Restaurant has emerged a culinary address requiring patrons to make reservations at least five days in advance. A number of Abu’s guests who are eager to repeatedly savor his culinary delights have been returning every two or three days to let him serve them.

Sitting down for a good lunch starts with at least four different imported breads brought to the table by a gracious waiter. A crispy flat bread with sesame seeds spread all over it appears like the sail of a boat in presentation. A milk bread roll, a black breadstick and a slice of French bread arrive before the diner on a separate plate. The variety indicates the chef’s attention to taste, aroma, quality and texture to stimulate the appetite of diners. Dip options range from olive oil to butter to a mix of eggplant and sun-dried tomatoes.

The tasty mushroom soup of choice is thick and like bubbling cappuccino in appearance. A risotto entree shows the chef to be chock-full of culinary creativity. A special plate hollowed out for three small portions takes first a scoop of bean sprouts flavored with ham. Another portion turns out to be grain-like pasta awashed with cream. A third serving on the same china consists of cooked barley with duck confit introduced to give it gourmet taste. Subtle differences in color and taste contribute all the way to an appetizing experience.

The main course consisting of osso buco or veal’s shank takes a day to prepare. Even the dessert is usually a labor of love on the part of the chef. No guest is likely to drop it towards the end of a full meal of great refinement.

Abu has the reputation of a professional chef driven by an ambition to serve cuisine worthy of Michelin star rating. In fact, this admirer of chef Robuchon.has from time to time gone out of his way to dine at Robuchon’s whether in Macau, Hongkong, Tokyo or Paris. He seeks to find out the reasons why the restaurant deserves to be awarded three Michelin stars.

Abu does not hesitate to invest in an imported German oven costing over NT$400,000. Robuchon’s in Macau uses such an oven to get the meat cuts cooked right. Abu learns that he can roast lamb in this oven in 20 minutes, rendering the meat truly tender and keeping the juice intact. The oven likewise comes in handy when he has to prepare dishes like beef tendon and ox tail. Desserts, too, can be prepared in such an oven.

Abu was directly involved in the preparation for the grand opening of the classy restaurant, which is 80 percent owned by him. Good taste, he is convinced, must start with the interior design of the dining establishment. He has kept it consistently simple and elegant. He bought the chandelier, importing it to personally assemble and hang up as the restaurant’s decorative centerpiece. Even the china he uses reflects his taste. He, who likes to be creative not just in his cooking but also in his food presentation, does not hesitate to purchase a plate even if the price tag says he must fork out NT$6,000 to have it.

A lunch set menu at Abu nowadays costs either NT$1,000 or NT$1,800 while dinner is priced at NT$2,300 or NT$2,600. Guests pop up often with special wines for the chef to match with his exquisite cuisine. The well-heeled regulars also like to just inform him of their budget per cover when they turn up in a group to enjoy good food.

Chef Abu has worked without taking a single day off ever since he opened his new restaurant in April. Word has gone around that he has returned to the culinary scene after closing down his brasserie behind The Sherwood Taipei.

The popular chef started his career in the kitchen of the Hilton Hotel in Hongkong. In fact, he trained in the different departments. He even got sent to France and Italy for further training.
Chef Abu moved to Taipei about 11 years ago, working in the beginning at the Caesar Park Taipei and then at the Tutto Bello Restaurant. From the beginning, he tried to master the different aspects of the culinary art and even to innovate on traditional cuisine.

There is talk of launching a Michelin Guide in Taiwan. The gourmets to be appointed to evaluate the contenders for Michelin stars are very likely to keep Abu on an exclusive list of selected restaurants.

Abu (tel. 02-2707-0699) is located at 28 Shihwei Road off Jenai Circle in Taipei. Remember to make reservations in advance.

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