Born in London to Chinese parents, Alvin Leung had the privilege to live abroad, travel extensively since childhood and immerse himself in different cultures, which would later influence and inspire a great amount of his work. Throughout time, the chef crafted a rather eccentric image for himself and adopted the moniker “demon chef”. In fact, with his blue-yellow tinted hair and a permanently black outfit, it is not so difficult to mistake him for a rock ‘n roll celebrity other than a Michelin star chef.
Only Leung is much more than his self-proclaimed “demon chef” title. Contrary to this image, his engineering background brings forth his meticulousness and precision manifested in every dish, but still with the thrill of breaking rules.
Many might think that his rebellious personality plays a crucial role in his dish making and to some extent, it is true. Even though Leung uses this trait as a signature to come up with original dishes, he admits that as a former engineer, he has the ability to take creativity to the next level, and transform it into innovation.
His Hong Kong based restaurant, Bo Innovation (3-Michelin stars), and Bo London (1-Michelin star) introduce Alvin’s signature cooking style, “X-treme Chinese” to many gourmands and both have the role to break down the perception of traditional and regional Chinese food and focus on the art of molecular gastronomy. His other Hong Kong based restaurant, MIC Kitchen, is a new concept which boasts “a modern kind of comfort food that people can enjoy over and over.”
Quotient: What is a typical day like for you?
Leung: I’m hyperactive so I wake up very early. In fact I only sleep for 3 to 4 hours a night and I craft my schedule according to where I am in the world. I travel quite a lot, I have different restaurants around the world. I also do a lot of private chef events and a bit of TV as well. But normally, I will just start off with a fairly light breakfast which is usually just black coffee and cigar.
If I am in Hong Kong, I will kick off in the kitchen early, but not really working at first, more like hanging around, supervising, looking at the staff and intimidating them!
When I’m at the restaurant, I’ll be working at the chef’s table, taking care of the clients, trying to get comments from them on some of the dishes. I believe getting feedback is very important. When I’m done with work, I will have my midnight snack of cigar and single malt scotch.
When I travel, I just want to sit down and enjoy the moment, enjoy the ambience, so I can be in a creative mode. I enjoy some quiet time, some cigar smoking time, some alcohol time.
In all your years of cooking, what was the most memorable accomplishment?
My Michelin stars. I started with two, went down to one, then went back to two again and now I have three. So I think there are ups and downs in life and they are all memorable. When I went down from two Michelin stars to one, it was memorable. When I went up from two to three that was also memorable. In life there are moments that are positive and moments that are negative, but I think these moments should be recorded.
What was the harshest criticism you ever received?
I don’t really think you should treat criticism as criticism. The way I see it is more like advice. You cannot feel bad every time someone criticises your dish!
How did your engineering background help shape the way you treat food?
I think we see things in a much more different perspective, in a more open-minded manner. We are less restrained by our traditions. Engineers are very practical because they make ideas work. We have creativity that we turn into innovation; we have creativity that we turn into a product. So, yes, I think engineers have this ability: turning creativity into innovation.
When it comes to creating new dishes, does it just come automatically or do you still have to go through a process of playing around with ingredients?
The concept, the idea and the creativity always come automatically. They pop out of “strange” places, but after that, there is still some work to be done to refine the product. Some chefs come up with an idea, create something and, after a few months, if it’s not popular, they simply take it out. In my case, I want to make sure that this is a product that will stay.
Are there any ingredients that have fallen out of fashion for you?
No, and the reason is because I don’t think there is any ingredient that have fallen into fashion with me. There’s no “foie gras month” or “vegetarian month”. I travel extensively but I am not going to go to a certain country and in the following month, for example, create a menu on Korea or Japan. Some chefs do that, but I get inspiration every time, so I don’t use the trend.
Do you have any comfort food?
I like rice, I like congee and soup. Hot/warm liquid!
If you had to prepare one last meal for yourself, what would it be?
I think there will be lots of cigars and coffee. I’m joking! I would be cooking something for friends and family, rather than for myself. If you come to the moment in your life when you know it’s going to end, I don’t think there is a particular favourite food that you will wish for. For me it’s not what you eat, but who you eat it with.
True or false: Fine dining cannot be cheap.
That’s true because that’s how fine dining is defined. It’s already defined as a luxurious product, something that involves a lot of cost.
Tell us something about yourself that many people may not know about.
I like folk music. I like Simon & Garfunkel! Oh, and I’m also a very nice man. A lot of people may not know that.
So why did you take the “demon chef” moniker?
It’s something about my explosive personality, my passion, my drive, my creativity. I think demons are the spirits of heaven and they are the ones that cause a lot of trouble, but they are not cynical; they mess around but they don’t create the Antichrist. So that’s why I’m called a “demon chef”.
How much of a demon really are you in the kitchen?
I’m not a demon in the sense of something sinister, but I’m a demon in terms of someone playful.