The iconic Cuban eatery La Bodeguita del Medio has landed in Shanghai as the first venture in Asia and has made some noise on the social media and the bustling streets of Hengshan Road! Striving to bring some of Cuba’s vibe, culture and delicacy to Shanghai, we managed to catch Lukas Vokrouhlik, the head chef of this iconic Havana restaurant, and picked his brains on his journey and how they’re bringing some of the authenticity of their original Cuban joint to Shanghai.
Michal Kytlica, sous chef (left) & Lukas Vokrouhlik, head chef.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
First off all, thank you for coming and for this opportunity. You do a great job here in Shanghai. I was born in 1975 in Prague, the Czech Republic, and I’ve always been passionate about cooking. My whole family cooks and my grandmother was a professional cook. She was the one who really inspired my love and passion for cooking. I remember I would help her peel onions and potatoes when I was little. When I was 15, I applied to art school without success, so I turned to my second choice, culinary school. I started my career while yet a student with an internship in Switzerland. It gave me the opportunity to meet a variety of professionals in my field.
After secondary school, I started to work as a chef in Atrium and Hilton hotel in Prague. Subsequently, after 5 years, I became the executive chef of hotel President and Erpet Golf Center. My next experience was in restaurant management, which involves public relations, dealing with staff, inventory and customer service.
In 2005, I became the chef at a Czech Restaurant in the Czech National Pavilion at a world expo in Japan. 5 years later, I was back in Asia, at another expo in Shanghai in the People’s Republic of China. In 2015 there was another expo in Italy and I am very proud that our restaurant was the third best valued.
How did you get involved with La Bodeguita del Medio?
It’s a funny story, I just read a hiring ad on the internet. I was not looking for new job, but when I realized it was for La Bodeguita del Medio in Shanghai, I decided to take the challenge.
Why has La Bodeguita Del Medio decided to enter China?
China, and especially Shanghai, is a huge market with a lot of restaurants with different cuisines, but there ware no Cuban cuisine before us.
The original La Bodeguita del Medio in La Havana, Cuba
How is your Shanghai restaurant different from the outlets in other parts of the world?
In our restaurant you can try not only the Cuban food, but also also other South American dishes including steak and seafood.
Tell us what we should know about Cuban food.
Cuban cuisine is a blend of Native American Taino food, Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines. Some Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish and African cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. This results in a unique, interesting and flavorful blend of the several different cultural influences, with strong similarities with the cuisine of the neighboring Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
For someone coming to La Bodeguita Del Medio for the first time, what are the must-tries?
You should try the Plato Cubano, or Cuban Plate. This plate includes all the best Cuban dishes, ropa vieja (shredded beef), congri (rice with black beans), Cuban style chicken wings, baked pork ribs, banana chips and yuca chips. It’s big enough for two guests to share. You should also try out mojito, since the mojito was born in la Bodeguita.
How has the Chinese public’s response been like?
Even though Cuban cuisine is new here, I believe the Chinese customers will enjoy it.
We know you have a beautiful stage and dance floor, spacious outdoor patios and a terrace, a VIP room, and even a cigar room, what can people expect?
We hold live dance shows from Tuesday to Saturday, and live Cuban music every other day. We built a special cigar room and walk-in humidor, because if you think about Cuba, you think about cigars. Also, beautiful ladies, of course. We are trying to bring a unique atmosphere to Shanghai, and hopefully we have succeeded.
La Bodeguita del Medio is located at Hengshan Road 191 (衡山路191号).To make reservations, call 15800714883.
Ropa Vieja – shredded beef infused with creole sauce and congri rice.
Arroz cubano— saffron rice with seafood, fish and chicken