Dubai is a perfect canvas for culinary innovation, says celebrity chef Alvin Leung

The Canadian Michelin-Star Chef and television personality personality talks about what it takes to consistently push creative boundaries and why the city is the best place to experiment with food

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Somya Mehta

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With his latest venture, Demon Duck Dubai, all set to undergo a transformation, the chef seeks to draw inspiration from the Middle Eastern culinary traditions
With his latest venture, Demon Duck Dubai, all set to undergo a transformation, the chef seeks to draw inspiration from the Middle Eastern culinary traditions

Published: Tue 4 Jun 2024, 9:12 PM

For chef Alvin Leung, cooking is akin to art—a space where one must consistently push creative boundaries to find true contentment. With the zeal of a newcomer and the maturity of a veteran, the globally-renowned culinary expert and television personality has carved a niche for himself in the international food scene.

Keeping his foot firmly-placed on the gas pedal, even after decades of being an industry leader, the serial entrepreneur is always looking to expand his chain of offerings, which stretch all the way from the Far East to North America. And although he spent his formative years in the Scarborough district of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Hong Kong is where the chef truly feels at home—a place that grounds him and inspires the childlike curiosity within him to expand the roots of modern Chinese cuisine.


Notoriously known as the ‘Demon Chef,’ he embraces this moniker in a positive spirit, embodying a playful, spirited approach rather than malevolence. “If that’s the interpretation, then yes, I embrace it wholeheartedly,” said Leung, who’s also appeared on MasterChef Canada.

With his latest venture in the city, Demon Duck, undergoing an exciting transformation, the chef is all set to push the boundaries of Chinese cuisine one step further, this time infusing it with the sensibilities of Middle Eastern cuisine, showcased in dishes like ‘Chef Alvin’s special hummus’. “Middle Eastern cuisine fascinates me for its evolution from a nomadic lifestyle to a refined culinary culture,” said Leung in a recent conversation with Khaleej Times, where he delved into his culinary philosophies and explored what attracted him to Dubai.


Edited excerpts from an interview:

What inspired you to become a chef and how did your culinary journey begin?

I found that when I was younger the meals that my mother made were less-than-stellar and this ignited my journey towards culinary exploration. I wanted to make meals that were not only nutritious but also tasty. My survival instincts also played a role in pushing me towards mastering the art of cooking for myself as I knew I would need to be able to cook to sustain myself.

Your culinary style is often described as innovative and unconventional. What drives your creativity in the kitchen?

Creativity knows no bounds for me; it's driven by a multitude of factors. I draw inspiration from the most unexpected sources, seeking out the unconventional and pushing boundaries. Whether it’s delving into history, finding motivation in another chef’s dedication, or observing the world around me, each experience fuels the raw energy I channel into my culinary creations.

Each dish at Leung's restaurant is a unique creation
Each dish at Leung's restaurant is a unique creation

What led you to blend traditional Chinese cuisine with modern techniques?

Blending traditional Chinese cuisine with modern techniques is akin to creating a culinary hybrid—a process I like to think of as a mad scientist manipulating DNA. To successfully craft such hybrids, one must intimately understand the original sources. Mastering the techniques, history, and essence of Chinese cuisine is fundamental. Only then can I transform it into something new, harnessing its textures, flavours, and cultural significance to create innovative culinary experiences. Therefore, one of the most important things to me is that I have to know the essence of Chinese cuisine, its history, its diversity, the textures. I should know everything about it, so I am able to innovate.

Is there any particular dish that holds special significance to you either personally or professionally?

Several dishes hold significant milestones in my career, each tied to cherished memories. One of the fondest memories I have is from the first one I created, a spaghetti bolognese dish with a touch of curry. I also have great memories of a dish I crafted while dating my wife, who’s no longer with us, which was a grilled salmon with mango salsa. Another dish I’m known for includes the slow-cooked duck at Demon Duck Dubai. Each dish marks a memorable moment in my culinary journey, serving as a delightful reminder of past triumphs and joys.

You're often referred to as the demon chef. How do you feel about this nickname? And does it accurately reflect your personality in the kitchen?

To me, ‘demon’ embodies a playful, spirited approach rather than malevolence. My definition of Demon has always been upbeat and not sinister or evil. If that's the interpretation, then yes, I embrace it wholeheartedly.

You recently launched your first restaurant in Dubai. What drew you to the city?

Dubai's culinary landscape pulsates with excitement and rapid growth—[it’s] a perfect canvas for culinary innovation. Its hunger for diverse experiences and refined tastes presented an irresistible opportunity to embark on a thrilling culinary adventure.

Demon Duck Dubai is located on Bluewaters Island
Demon Duck Dubai is located on Bluewaters Island

What aspect of the culinary scene in Dubai excites you the most?

Dubai’s humble yet assertive culinary scene symbolises its journey toward culinary excellence. It’s a place where innovation meets tradition, and growth meets maturity, making it a frontrunner in the global culinary arena. This dynamic environment compelled me to be a part of its culinary evolution because it’s very close to who I am as a person.

What intrigues you about Middle Eastern cooking traditions, and how do you incorporate them into your culinary creations?

Middle Eastern cuisine fascinates me for its evolution from a nomadic lifestyle to a refined culinary culture. Its emphasis on fresh ingredients, aromatic spices, and precise techniques resonates deeply with my culinary philosophy.

Incorporating these elements into my creations allows me to craft dishes that are both culturally rich and gastronomically enticing.

Can the world of being a serial entrepreneur become all-too-consuming?

While it fuels my creativity, maintaining balance amid entrepreneurial pursuits requires self-awareness and realistic expectations. Understanding personal limits and managing pressure is crucial to navigating the world of entrepreneurship. It’s a delicate balance, juggling the excitement of exploration with the demands of business. One of the greatest challenges lies in managing the pressure we impose on ourselves. It’s vital to ground ourselves in self-awareness and self-care, ensuring that our entrepreneurial endeavours remain both fulfilling and sustainable in the long run.

Lastly, what advice would you give to young aspiring chefs who want to pursue a career in culinary arts?

My advice? Disregard advice altogether. Forge your path, trust your instincts, and pursue your passion no matter what people say.

It’s through personal experience and the willingness to challenge conventions that true culinary innovation is born.

somya@khaleejtimes.com

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