Alvin Leung is the chef-proprietor of Bo Innovation in Hong Kong.
Alvin Leung, also known as the Demon Chef, has come a long way in a very short time. Born in London and raised in Toronto, he spent the bulk of his working life as an engineer and he began cooking for paying customers just six years ago. Now he is one of a select few self-taught chefs to receive a coveted Michelin star.
Prompted by encouragement from friends, who told Leung his food surpassed the quality found in most restaurants, he took over at an underground speakeasy called Bo Inosaki. Although it was a Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong, it was here that the seeds of Leung's "X-treme Chinese" cooking style were sown.
A keen experimenter, Leung says: "I would never do a dish traditionally; I'd always add Chinese elements to create a unique experience."
His food quickly proved popular with both the punters and the press, but one year later, he decided to move on.
"It was either that, or go to jail," he laughs, referring to the unlicensed and uninsured nature of speakeasy restaurants. He joined Bo Innovation, where he unleashed his creativity and delved into the world of molecular gastronomy.
In addition to the influences of many international cuisines including French and Italian from the West; and Thai, Korean, Malaysian and Indian from the East; Leung takes inspiration from the "masters", many of whom he has had the fortune to visit and work with. He says that it is the personality, philosophy and spirit of Joël Robuchon, Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià respectively that make him the chef he is today.
But in many ways, Leung remains an engineer at heart. "Engineers are very logical, observant people, who are good at science and experimenting, which correlates with the cooking industry today. The skills I've translated from my previous career have really helped me to run the distance," he explains.
Leung also brought with him a passion for sustainability. A graduate of environmental science, he says his menu is very green and some of his dishes are charitable. "I use products from charities, such as yak's milk from Tibet and all proceeds from my Sex on the Beach dish (which takes the form of an edible condom on powdered shitake mushroom "sand") go to AIDS Concern because as well as sturgeon and dolphins, I want to save people too," he says.
As a result, he encourages fellow chefs to imitate the graphic dish and raise money by doing it their way, with their own local ingredients.
HIGHS… Leung received ultimate recognition when Bo Innovation was awarded two Michelin stars in 2008. "It's always a chef's dream to get a star, no matter what they say. It's the Oscar of the restaurant world," he says.
But he adds that with plaudits comes pressure. "Once you get into this league you're in with the big boys. The higher you go up the ladder, the higher the expectation," he explains. "But for someone who didn't start his career as a chef or went to any cookery classes, it's a good achievement."
LOWS… International restaurant critic Patricia Wells gave Bo Innovation a damning review, in which she said Leung cooked like an 11-year-old. Rather than let it bring him down, he says he learnt from it. "She didn't enjoy her experience, so I had to go to a new level," he recalls. "But I did tell her she was wrong. I said I cooked like a three-year old!"
Leung strongly believes that the low points are what drives him, so even when he was stripped of one of his Michelin stars he remained reflective: "I don't blame anybody, but I'm working my ass off to get it back. Being the underdog is much better than being the favourite."
Family One daughter
Favourite holiday London or Hong Kong, both are home for me
Drives Environmentally friendly hybrid
Motto Be prepared: I strive for it but never achieve it!
Leung will feature on day two of Italian chef congress Identita London 2010, which runs from 7 to 8 June at Vinopolis, Southbank.