BY Sara Johnson
“Decide which country’s flavors you’re craving today: Japan, Vietnam, or India. Then mix your bowl—and amaze your mouth. Always fast and fresh.” That’s the premise of San Francisco Bay Area–based restaurant chain Bamboo Asia, according to the restaurant’s website, which recently began using sous vide cooking in its expanding network of local restaurants.
“Bamboo Asia is a fast-casual eatery where we focus on Asian cuisine and really try to bring the unique taste and freshness of Asian cuisine together with California healthy eating culture,” says Sebastiaan Van De Rijt, CEO of Bamboo Asia.
Bamboo Asia is a smaller player (for now, at least) in the create-your-own-meal fast-casual eateries along the lines of Chipotle and Sweetgreen. Bamboo Asia’s first location, located in San Francisco’s Financial District, opened in 2011. In October 2018, Bamboo Asia opened a second location in the city’s SoMa neighborhood—coinciding with the restaurant’s adoption of sous vide into their production process.
Bamboo Asia operates a central kitchen facility in Oakland, where many of the restaurant’s proteins are precooked. According to chef Erik Hopfinger, foods are cooked sous vide at the central kitchen before being cooled and transported to the restaurant locations, where they are reheated with circulators. Some menu items are finished with convection ovens at the restaurants. (The restaurant uses Sammic Smartvide 8 Plus circulators and ARY VacMaster VP540 vacuum sealers.)
“Since our model was to not have a full-blown kitchen at each of our locations, we had always been par-cooking the food offsite and finishing it off at our restaurants,” Van De Rijt says. “This is why sous vide works so well for us, because we always had that system built in, and sous vide cooking has really helped us perfect the quality of our foods while not changing our business.”
Currently the restaurant uses sous vide for its chicken, pork, beef, and lamb menu items, although Van De Rijt says it is exploring using sous vide to cook vegetables as well.
The cooking method is also helping Bamboo Asia expand by keeping the costs of kitchen build-outs low. “It’s allowed us to build out our locations at a third of the cost of our competition,” Van De Rijt says. Bamboo Asia is planning to open two more restaurants this year: in April, one on San Francisco’s California Street, and in May, the chain’s first location in Oakland. “Our central kitchen is built is to support 12 local restaurants, so our focus right now is to get to those 12 locations, all within the Bay Area,” Van De Rijt says.