9 April 2024

Five minutes with Tony and Justin Lieu, Au Lac Vegan Cuisine

| Claire Sams
Two men standing in front of a food truck

Tony (left) and Justin Lieu are brothers who found their passion working in their family’s vegan restaurants. Photo: Auc Lac Vegan Cuisine/Drewy.

Who are you?

Tony: My name is Tony Lieu, and I work in the kitchen as one of the chefs.

Justin: I’m Justin Lieu. I help out everywhere, but I mainly take care of front-of-house and the admin work.

What is your venue?

Tony: We put an emphasis on making vegan food not boring. When you go to a pub, the main focus is often on meat, and the vegan or vegetarian side is a salad or boiled vegetables in most cases. At our restaurants [located in Dickson and Woden] and the Au Lac Food Truck we’ve been setting up, we focus on the natural flavours of the vegetables with an Asian influence.

Justin: Growing up, we had quite a few vegan mates, but there weren’t many options. Our dad was the brains of the operation, and he found ways to replicate the taste and textures of meat as much as possible. Now, we’ve got a point to prove that vegan food can be just as good, if not better, than meat dishes.

What are three ways to describe yourself?

Justin: I’m a very caring person – I’ve always loved the customer side of things – and I’m driven.

Tony: I guess I’m creative because I love creating new menu items and testing new dishes. I would also say I’m caring and hard-working.

A vegan dish from Au Lac Vegan Cuisine

Visitors to Au Lac Vegan Cusine’si restaurant and food truck can try healthy vegan food inspired by the Lieu family’s Vietnamese heritage. Photo: Supplied.

How did you get involved in the hospitality industry?

Justin: We followed Mum and Dad into the cooking industry, and we’ve owned a few businesses before. Hospitality has always been our world.

Tony: It is a family business, so that’s how we got into it at first. As our parents got older, we found quite a big love for it. Over time, it has become less a job and more of a passion.

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What is your favourite or must-use ingredient when cooking?

Tony: I think tofu. At home and the restaurant, I experiment with the different ways we can manipulate tofu. You can change the texture by removing the water content or fry it. Mushrooms would be a second one – especially because they are in season right now.

Where are you travelling next?

Justin: I’ve got a couple of trips planned. I’ve got a few of my best mate’s bucks trips coming up, so I have plans to go to Bali and the Gold Coast. At the end of the year, I might go to Mexico.

Tony: My wife is from Malaysia, so we tend to go back and visit family there quite often. Sometimes, we go around Chinese New Year for about a week or so. But we definitely want to go to Malaysia again.

A vegan dish from Au Lac Vegan Cuisine

Tony says that over the years, working in the restaurant has become “less of a job and more of a passion” for the brothers. Photo: Supplied.

What is your food philosophy?

Tony: Vegan and healthy go hand in hand. We try to emphasise that in our food.

Justin: We try to keep everything as healthy and fresh as possible. With our soups, for example, we don’t use vegetable stock—we use fresh vegetables and produce from across Canberra. We try to find the healthiest way of doing things without sacrificing taste.

What is your comfort food?

Tony: I tend to lean towards hearty soups, so laksa or something similar would be up there for me. It’s like a warm bowl of comfort.

Justin: I second Tony there – living in Canberra, you’re freezing for six months of the year! I love Mum and Dad’s cooking at home. She will cook something that’s a bit more traditional Vietnamese food, and we’ll sit down, eat it and spend time together. The Vietnamese crêpe Mum makes is pretty good – nothing beats Mum’s cooking.

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Where do you dine out for special occasions?

Tony: We both love Sweet Bones [a vegan cafe and bakery in Braddon] and go there quite a lot.

An easy one to finish – what’s your go-to drink order?

Tony: A good beer is always enjoyable after a long workday in the kitchen!

Justin: I’m a juice guy, and I’ll try anything I can put in a blender. It just needs a bit of protein added to whatever we’ve got at home, whether it be berries, fruit or something else. I make it up as I go.

Au Lac Dickson Vegan Cuisine is located at 4/35-39 Wooley Street in Dickson, while their Woden restaurant is located in Westfield Woden at Shop G90A in Corinna Street in Phillip. Follow their Facebook page for information on opening hours. The Au Lac Food Truck is expected to be operational in the coming months.

Original Article published by Claire Sams on Riotact.

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