IF LuxBite’s recent MasterChef stint is anything to go by, the cafe is certainly in for success. Carene Chong chats to the owners, both former international students.
It started with a young, tall patisserie chef walking into the MasterChef hall with a silver dish and cloche in hand and ended with a creation so complex it led to tears, desperation and elimination.
“Are you ready?” the chef asks.
“Yes,” reply the contestants, clearly terrified of what lies ahead.
The cloche is lifted to reveal a glistening, perfectly shaped pink cake with fine sugar twirls on top. Gasps of surprise and shock ripple through the hall.
“The cake was created by an evil genius!” exclaims contestant Christina Batista.
The evil genius in question is Bernard Chu, owner and head chef of South Yarra dessert cafe LuxBite. Originally from Kelantan in Malaysia, 30-year-old Bernard is the self-proclaimed king of desserts with recipes so complicated, he says it takes a special someone to make them.
Bernard’s MasterChef experience began when a team of the show’s consultants and crew walked through LuxBite’s door with a challenge in mind.
“They had a Kids’ Week planned and asked me whether I wanted to help out with an episode.”
“Obviously, I said yes,” he says.
“They told me to come up with an idea for a challenge using Australian lollies.”
At the time, Bernard was experimenting with opera cakes, French-style layered desserts, so he proposed a colourful lolly layer cake. The show’s consultants loved it.
Along with his long time partner and cafe co-owner, Yen Yee Pek, Bernard worked on the recipe over the next fortnight.
We wanted to show them what we could do, so we added so many levels of complexity to the cake.” – Bernard Chu, LuxBite
“The consultants took a look and said: ‘This seems really hard to make’.
“Later on, setting the cake down in front of those three MasterChef judges with all 12 cameras rolling was bloody scary.”
Following the episode, LuxBite and the lolly bag cake’s reputation soared sky high with hundreds of emails and Facebook messages, as well as 1,000 new “likes” on Facebook.
“We’ve always been busy, but MasterChef has brought it to a whole new level.”
“It feels like all our hard work has paid off,” he says.
Bernard and Yen fell in love while studying hospitality management at Sunway College in Kuala Lumpur. Their common love for all things sweet had them set on a career of pastry making.
Three years later, the pair moved to Australia to further their studies at the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Sydney. After working in celebrated restaurants like Quay and Comme, they decided to strike out on their own and open LuxBite.
Our desserts are based on French techniques with Asian flavours, inspired by our hometown and childhood memories.”
The cafe’s menu boasts a range of delectable sweet treats as well as a few savoury options, all of which have an ‘East meets West’ factor. Take their Banoffee opera cake. Like the lolly bag cake, it features layers of hazelnut sponge, banana ganache, Sichuan pepper chocolate crunch and salted toffee buttercream for the ultimate dessert experience with a twist.
But as delicious as that sounds, LuxBite’s signature offerings are its macarons.
“That’s how the name of our cafe came about. A friend said macarons are like luxurious little bite-sized morsels, hence the name LuxBite,” Bernard explains.
Bernard’s macarons aren’t your typical biscuits with flavours like Kopiko (Indonesian coffee candy), green tea pistachio, Ribena lemonade, passionfruit with kaffir lime and the limited edition kaya toast.
“It’s a flavour inspired by a classic breakfast dish we had growing up. It has kaya (coconut jam) and French butter as the filling and the shell is made with toasted bread,” Yen explains.
Despite their runaway success, the couple is quick to remember their humble beginnings.
“When we first came to Australia, everyone around us was kind enough to give us a hand with everything, whether that meant mentoring us, employing us or correcting our English,” Bernard says.
So now that we’ve succeeded in doing something for ourselves, we wanted to pass on whatever we’ve learnt along the way.”
On top of that, both owners are all for sharing the love.
“We’re not selfish with our brand. We’re always looking for opportunities to work with others,” Bernard says.
Recently, the cafe collaborated with new Malaysian gelato store N2 for Malaysia’s Independence Day weekend.
“It’s about keeping it young and fresh in the business, carrying out concepts that no one else has done before,” Bernard says.
“And that’s the beauty of Melbourne. People here are more open to accepting new ideas,” Yen adds.
Every year, the couple holds an annual fundraising sale to support cancer research.
“I lost my dad to cancer so I try to do something for cancer research so other kids don’t have to go through what I did,” Bernard says.
With close to three successful years under their belt, what words of wisdom do Bernard and Yen have for aspiring young entrepreneurs?
Be ready to take risks and follow your heart, especially when you’re still young.”
“I honestly don’t know where I got the guts to open LuxBite, but I did. It wasn’t easy, but with hard work and passion for what we’re doing, we achieved what we set out for.”
“You also need to bend and stretch yourselves to adapt to your environment. University degrees don’t prepare you for everything,” Yen says.
“We didn’t have a business plan nor a business degree. We just trusted our instincts, listened to feedback from customers and did what we thought was best for our business.”
At the end of the day, Bernard and Yen are both grateful for the success that is LuxBite.
“Someone would walk past LuxBite and think we’re doing very well for ourselves, but only we know how hard it was for us to get there,” Bernard says.
“We appreciate every single moment as well as every individual who walks through our doors.”
Check out our mouthwatering photo shoot at LuxBite:
LuxBite is open every day from 10am-7pm.