Michelin Chef Quits for Burger: Happiness Matters the Most
Beef & Liberty
Address: Suite 111, Shanghai Centre，No. 1376 west Nanjing Rd.
Tel: 021 62895733
Recommended Dish：Warm Cookie, Holy Duck, Pulled Pork, Chicken Tenders
This article is a rough translation of "文华东方总厨辞职卖汉堡：做人呢，最重要的就是开心", originally written in Chinese. To view the original vesion, please follow my account and kindly find it in the archive.
Earlier this year, Chef Uwe Opocensky quits Mandarin Oriental for famous burger chain Beef & Liberty. This move has startled not just the patrons of Mandarin Bar + Grill but also the local F&B scene.
Along his career path, through working with the most important Chefs of our time, such as Alain Ducasse, Ferran Adrià and the like, Chef Opocensky established his own reputation. In May 2007, he took the position as the Executive Chef at Hong Kong's oldest luxury hotel. In his nine and a half years at MO, he ran 10 restaurants and bars, earned and retained 1 michelin star for the belovedMandarin Bar & Grill.
Why burger? Why Beef & Liberty?
Beef & Liberty has one outpost in Shanghai（love the warm coockies!）Chef Opocensky, as the new Group Executive Chef of Greater China Restaurant Company, the mother company of Beef & Liberty, brought Shanghai a seasonal "Holy Duck" Burger during a recent visit to the city.
"To me, Christmas means duck and red cabbage. "
The Chef rolled his grandma's old recipe into this year's burger: a whole duck confit, spiced up with orange, cinammon and star anise, paired with red cabbage and creamy mustard mayo, creating an nostalgic umami flavor alongside layered textures. The sweetness of red cabbage reminds of a local pickled mustard green, a popular ingredient for local delights such as Braised Pork Belly. For a cold December night, it makes a perfect comfort dinner.
I did enjoy the burger, but I am more interested in Chef Opocensky and his story. On a cold, polluted night in Shanghai ("Hong Kong is no better"), next to the gas heater on the restaurant back porch, we had a brief but brilliant talk.
So here's what he's up to.
Not just flipping burgers.
01. We don't need this many fine dining restaurants
Some say he left because he was tired of the eternal chase of a second star. Frankly speaking, with Amber on board, it could be a tough decision for the micheliln committee to award Mandrin Bar & Grill another 2 star. Some say, he is bored with Fine Dining.
"There are many great fine dining restaurants in this world, Amber, Joël Robuchon, Eleven Madison Park in New York...they will continue to exist but there's not much room left for new restaurants."
"But our time has changed. The younger generation, when they go to a restaurant, they just want to have a good time. You don't need white tablecloth or tuxedo to do this, you know, sitting there for hours and you can't even move.
"I am not anti-fine dining, I just want to swipe away all that formality. "
The real challenge would be, to provide an equally excellent dining expeirence in a casual, no-fuss environment.
02. We are ambitious, it's not just the burger
Beef & Liberty LKF is the first opening after Uwe has joined the company. He considers it more of "casual restaurant happens to serve burger" rather than your normal burger joint.
A menu filled with items such as "chicken parfait with sourdough" or my all-time favorite Padrón peppers? Doesn't sound like a burger joint. Chef Opocensky even created a more accessible version of his signature dish, Vegetable Crudites, sold at HKD58.
This new venture also attracted other like-minded talents such as award-winning bar manager Pawel Mikusek (Lily & Bloom)...with all that effort behind the bar and the kitchen, now I find it quite necessary to set aside a meal to visit Beef & Liberty LKF during my next visit to Hong Kong.
Now it's getting interesting. An eye-catching dinning space designed to meet the ever-growing needs of social-dining-drinking, for sure Chef Opocensky did not quit for flipping burgers! And this is only the beginning, his schedule for 2017 looks somewhat like this:
Lots on the plate.
But for the foreseeable future, burger is and will be at the core of the business. While I was devouring my duck confit, the chefs were busy 'bun-tasting' to find out a perfect bun that meets the Opocensky's strict standard.
When they finished the tasting I was already served my dessert, I showed him my empty plate as a proof of being a good customer.
My reward? Happy to kow they've found a better bun.
A similar counterpart can be, David Chang's Momofuku empire: kicking off with a viral, instagramworthy casual bite（bun & ramen）, then quickly expanded itself to something much more ambitious, a decent restaurant (Momofuku Ko).
Upon hearing this, the German smiled a little bit but not too much.
"As long as the landlords are on the same page...hopefully!"
We also talked about Shagnhai. Chef thought "Shanghai is more interesting than Singapore". Shanghai has been changed a lot according to his memory from two years ago. And this city definitely means a lot to GCRC's future growth. With limited edition burgers rolling out every 8 weeks, he hope visiting Shanghai every other months.
03. 70% of the world's pollution comes from
（Excuse my languge）cow shit
It looks like Beef & Liberty does satisfy the Chef's ambition. But being Uwe Opocensky, choices must be plenty, why Beef & Liberty?
His answer to this was very simple:
"Because they use grass-fed beef. "
"They use grass-fed instead of grain-fed, that means they care about the qaulity."
The popularity of grain-fed beef in Asia might be a thing related to local palatte preferenece of fattier taste over the meaty texture?
"Taste and texture is only related to meat grade. The reason behind promoting grain-fed is profit. The production is easier and steadier. But grain can cause a lot of problems, the grain itself can be bad, even if you don't eat them directly, you eat the animal and it could have an impact. "
Cows are supposed to eat grass.
Beef & Liberty currently uses grass-fed beef from Tasmania and is considering switching to Scottish. First of all, it's a British Company (haha!); Second, they found American and Australian Beef a bit too fatty, while the meatier taste is preferred when it comes to a burger.
With the support from management level, he was able to carry out his own belief: for example, promoting vegetarian burger at a company that mainly sells, well, meat burgers.
"70% of the world's pollution, comes form, excuse my language, cow shit! If we can at least eat vegetarian once or twice a week, it might get better."
To make this world a better place, the Chef plans to make vegetarian food "sexier".
"If we can make vegetable as good as beef, then why wouldn't you eat them? We've already had a falafel burger and a beetroot burger on the menu, there's more to come. "
As far as a burger is concerned, vegetarian burger has been trendy all over the world, especially North America. We have every reason to believe the vegetarin options from Chef Opocensky would be better than ever. :-D
About his personal restaurant project, Chef Opocensky revealed an interesting idea:
"I hate wasting food. In my own restaurant, I may order a whole lamb. Depends on the size of your party, this table will get the lambrack, the other ones get the shoulder...no waste. "
This reminds me of a Pop-up project done by Blue Hill a few years ago in New York. This project "wastED", where Chef Dan Barber turned kitchen waste into creative fine food. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a reservation (seats were gone too fast!!!), but I did visit Blue Hill and remained a big fan of it till today.
“Oh, Blue Hill would be my goal. ”
04. I Have More Freedom Now
During the talk, the most frequently used word was FREEDOM.
Literally and practically, Beef & Liberty is an excellent choice.
His bold move, a little difficult to understand for some people, I found myself quite realted. Moving from a hotel group to independent restaurants is very similiar to quitting your day job to start your own business.
"When working for a hotel group, or a big coorperate, everything you do, there's a frame. Now I no longer worries about the frame. I am the frame. "
"Many people say, hey Uwe, you look so happy. "
As an old Chinese saying goes, the apparence stems from the mind. It's never too late to make a change. I'd like to end it with a classic TVB soap opera quote: Being a human, happiness matters the most.
Chef Opocensky's favorite bars in Hong Kong? Stockton has shut its door but the hipsterish Ping Pong Gintoneria is still busy. However, when it comes to hotel bars, the answer is the Upper House, a bar with a great view.