It was in a back alley in Las Vegas, USA, that the popular chef Kelvin Cheung, former head chef at Colaba’s famed restaurant, Ellipsis, got married to Andrea Michele. The ceremony was impromptu, casual, and had In-N-Out burgers, chips and home-made guacamole for food. That’s Cheung’s attitude outside the kitchen — “chilled out”. At work, however, the 35-year-old says he is an “intense” taskmaster.
“There is this mindset; young people think that if they go to culinary school, they will become chefs. But after they finish school, they realise that they actually have to work a lot; that it takes time to achieve something,” he says.
He even feels the quality of culinary education in India needs to improve. According to him, many recently graduated chefs that he has met in Mumbai, for instance, have not been trained adequately in the field. “I think there should be better cooking schools in India. The kids I meet these days do not know anything [about cooking]. In such cases, I prefer newbies, because they come with a blank slate, and I can mould them,” he says.
Cheung has often said that he has built a “good portion” of his career in Mumbai. That is the reason he decided to come back to India after quitting Ellipsis in mid-2015, moving to Chicago for a few months, and sifting through several exciting job offers from across the world. Presently, Cheung runs two restaurants in Mumbai — One Street Over, which he opened in December last year, with close friend Boo Kwang Kim, and Bastian, a casual dining seafood eatery that he launched last week, again with Kim as the chef de cuisine.
As far as the culinary industry in Mumbai is concerned, Cheung feels that it is still an “emerging market”. “It has changed exponentially. Because of social media and the fact that more people are well-travelled, the palate is changing every day. Look at all the standalone restaurants that have come up! Who could have imagined that 10 years ago?” he says, adding that people have greater knowledge of cooking techniques and food now. “For example, the favourite non-Indian cuisine in 2012 was Chinese or Italian. Now, cuisines like Japanese, and super healthy food are really hot,” adds Cheung.
Cheung’s journey into the culinary world began long before he started working. He says he was “born into a restaurant”. His father, Eddy Cheung, originally a Hong Kong resident, moved to New York, USA, and worked as a waiter, before eventually opening his first restaurant. That’s how Cheung grew up as part of the hospitality industry. “I used to wash the dishes and clean the vegetables [when I was 12 and working with my father],” says Cheung.