He wears a pair of blue-tinted glasses and has electric blue highlights in his hair. Thrice Michelin-starred chef Alvin Leung belies this rebel-like look with an affable smile, the antithesis of everything one might imagine of someone who calls himself the ‘Demon Chef’. Leung, who was recently in the city for the 4XFOUR Michelin pop up at JW Marriott in Juhu, is known for changing the perception of Chinese cuisine with his brand of ‘X-treme’ Chinese food.
This was his second visit to the city. The first one was as a student, 30 years ago. “It used to be called Bombay then. A lot has changed, but the traffic is still the same,” he complains.
A self-taught chef, Leung trained and worked as an engineer before purchasing a speakeasy called Bo Inosaki in Hong Kong in 2002. This was renamed as Bo Innovation, which is now the mecca for modern Chinese gastronomy. “I enjoy being a chef more than an engineer, even though I approach cooking from an engineer’s point of view. It is logical, methodological and it seems to work,” says the 54-year old chef.
Leung’s most-talked-about dish, Sex on the Beach, is an edible condom (created with viscous pink liquid made of tapioca and yams) lying on ‘sand’ made of shitake mushroom. And the money he earned from this dish was donated to the Elton John Aids Foundation. “I wanted to make the most ridiculous, spontaneous and controversial dish. I wouldn’t call it my proudest moment, though,” he says. So, what is it, the ‘proudest moment’? “It hasn’t come yet,” says Leung, who is often called as the Heston Blumenthal of Chinese cooking. In fact, he is also one of only two self-taught chefs in a professional kitchen that has ever received Michelin stars; the other is Blumenthal.
Though his signature condom dish was not on the menu at the pop-up, he treated patrons with a surprise offering made using the city’s beloved fish, the Bombay Duck. “In Hong Kong, we call it the dog stomach fish. I am surprised Indians enjoy its slimy texture,” he says. His other signature is the Dead Garden, a light and airy avocado, spring onion and lime emulsion with a layer of ‘soil’ made from fried morel and enoki mushrooms.
So, why does he call himself The Demon Chef? “At one point, people were calling me the rock ‘n’ roll chef and the god chef. Calling yourself a god is blasphemous. So I decided on demon. Demons are not evil; they like to play tricks on people,” he says.
However, he is quick to dismiss molecular gastronomy — which he often uses — as passé. “Molecular gastronomy has become a misunderstood term. Nobody knows what the hell it means. For them, it’s some smoke, some air, some foam,” he says, adding, “It is important that we create real food,” Leung adds.
So, what’s his favourite comfort food? “Whatever my wife cooks. Most chefs will tell you that they never cook at home, especially if they have to clean up after,” he says. Leung shuttles between London (where he owns Bo London), Canada (for television shoots) and Hong Kong and is always living out of a suitcase.
Since Chinese food is so popular here, will we see a Bo in India, we ask. “I’d love to open something for the Indian market. The response at the pop up was great and I know there’s a market here,” he signs off.