Chef's Table: A Global Perspective
Cuisines from nearly every corner of the world converge at bu•ku
By Alex Dixon
Photography by Joe Reale
A mainstay of the downtown Raleigh restaurant scene for nearly a decade, bu•ku will soon be moving to Cary. But a change of location won’t affect the mission of the pioneering street food–inspired restaurant.
Opened in February 2010 by owners Sean Degnan and Tony Hopkins, the restaurant has developed a following for putting its own spin on street food dishes from around the world. “We really appreciate the culture and the history of the different cuisines,” says executive chef Amanda Haisley. “We do a good job of showing respect for each of the individual cultures while still exploring what we can do to make these inspirations our own.”
Haisley has been with bu•ku for seven years. She came to North Carolina after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, drawn by an advertisement for a sous chef position at the restaurant. While Haisley isn’t able to travel often, her expansive research and culinary education has driven the globally inspired menu. From Belgian moules frites to Ethiopian steak tartare, no cuisine is off limits.
“You have to really care and be interested in learning about it; there’s a lot of information out there,” Haisley says. “It’s also a lot of trial and error; you get the feel of a cuisine, and then you start playing around with different ingredients and what you think you can swap out and still get the same idea.”
The menu changes seasonally, but popular items like the Citrus-poached Lobster Larb with pineapple, cucumber, radish, nuoc cham, lemongrass, mint, and cilantro can transition by replacing the lobster with a heavier protein in fall and winter. “Everybody thinks that their grandmother makes the best pasta sauce, so everyone is going to have a different opinion as to what’s authentic,” Haisley says. “So we try to be respectful, but not completely authentic.” Hearty bowls like phở, ramen, and a hot pot with curry, roasted chicken, and mushrooms make for warming dishes on a cold night.
And bu•ku’s hospitality and drink pairings don’t take a back-seat to its food. All three executive chefs in the bu•ku restaurant group have passed level one in the Court of Master Sommeliers exam, and the restaurant group frequently hosts wine dinners. The group offers wine training to every member of its 120-person staff. Like its food menu, bu•ku offers wines from around the world; its bottle list totals more than 120 options and ranges from $36 to $150.
While Haisley believes there’s something to be said for the “what grows together, goes together” mantra when it comes to food and wine pairings, the staff likes to branch out and emphasize flavors from the dishes and wines that will complement each other.
On New Year’s Eve, bu•ku will throw a final farewell event for its downtown location in the Red Hat Tower at the corner of Wilmington and East Davie streets, before moving to the former site of An Asian Cuisine at Renaissance Park Place in Cary. “[The event] was a big conversation and originally we were going to do what we normally do, which is a prix fixe menu, plated, sit-down. But we thought it would be really fun to do something a little more interactive and more like a party, so it’s probably going to be a combination of a few displays, a few action stations, and some passed hors d’oeuvres,” Haisley says. “But we’re definitely going to go all out, and it will probably have some glimpses of what we’ll be doing in Cary in addition to some really special things that we want to show off.”
Even though bu•ku will be leaving its longtime space, Haisley says the management team has plans to come back to downtown Raleigh with a new concept. This spring, bu•ku opened a second Triangle location, this one in Wake Forest, and last year, the restaurant group launched a South American concept—so•ca—in Cameron Village.
“I know we’ll definitely still have our following,” Haisley says. “I think Cary is going to have a great base as far as people who are interested in what we have to offer.”
The bu•ku Hot Pot
Stock yields 2 gallons
4 quarts chicken stock
¼ jar Thai red curry paste*
5 cans (13.8 oz each) coconut milk
1½ lbs brown sugar
2 cups tamarind concentrate
1 lime leaf
To taste: salt and pepper
Vegetable or Protein: We make our traditional bu•ku Hot Pot with roasted chicken and mushrooms, but you can try it with shrimp, tofu, seasonal vegetables, or traditional Thai accouterments such as bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, chilies, or scallions.
1) Combine curry paste and brown sugar in a large stockpot; cook over medium heat until the mixture becomes fragrant.
2) Add chicken stock, coconut milk, and tamarind concentrate, and blend with an immersion blender until the mixture is completely smooth. (If you do not have an immersion blender, this can also be done in batches in a blender. Be sure to thoroughly combine all of the batches so the finished soup is uniform.)
3) Bring to a boil with the lime leaf added. Adjust seasoning to taste.
4) Once your broth is complete, it is ready for any protein or vegetable add-ins you would like.
Serve hot pot with steamed rice or rice noodles for a complete dish.
*Recipe based on Mae Ploy 2 pound, 3 oz jar, which contains shrimp paste.
Allergen Alert: Contains shellfish products!
bu•ku Global Street Food
110 E Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601