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Chef Chat: Michael Leung, Asian Cafe Express

62-year-old Michael Leung has been working in the restaurant industry for almost 50 years. Yes, your math is correct; Leung got his first job as a line cook at a restaurant in Hong Kong when he was 12. This is probably why he already owns his second restaurant in the Valley.

Asian Café Express in Mesa has a different philosophy than Leung's first restaurant, Gourmet House of Hong Kong, or any of the other restaurants he's worked in Stateside. While still providing authentic Hong Kong fare, which he says is a rarity in Arizona, he is focused on getting good food out quickly and inexpensively.

Leung's target patron, unlike the business crowd of his last restaurant, is "young people," he says. Located at Main Street and Dobson, Asian Café Express is perfectly located for ASU and MCC students alike, he adds, and as we sit talking with him, there is an abundance of youngsters flowing in and out of the building.

To accommodate the low-income college kid, Leung has made his menu affordable. The dishes even come in different sizes, in case budget or stomach size doesn't permit a full entrée. Leung says he put pictures of each dish on the walls of his restaurant to give his clientele a crash course in legit Chinese food. Why?

Leung simply says, "People don't know." Then he proceeds to quiz us on our noodle knowledge, proving his point... We don't know.

Leung explains that when he opened his first restaurant in 1984 in Phoenix, he was the first to serve certain dishes and ingredients in Arizona. Even now, he enjoys sharing his cooking with newcomers.

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"It's a small place and I can talk to customers," he says. "I try to look for the expression when people have authentic Hong Kong food for the first time."

That expression gives him a combination of happiness and pride, which is why he's stayed in the restaurant business so long. Leung says everything about the food he serves has to be exactly so, in terms of color, taste, temperature, and smell. That's why he believes he has an edge over the other Chinese restaurants.

"I want to prove to customers I have skills," Leung said. "Try other restaurants and you can tell me who's best."

With confidence and a resume like Leung's, it's hard not to be enthusiastic about his little quick order restaurant.

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