“Molecular cuisine is not a style. Any idiot can freeze something with liquid nitrogen.”
That’s just one of the biting adages that Alvin Leung, the infamous “Demon Chef” and owner of the three Michelin-starred Bo Innovation, serves up to any of his would-be detractors.
Ahead of his first foray into Singapore’s burgeoning restaurant scene, the Hong Kong-born chef brings his signature maverick style to Regent Singapore’s Michelin-starred Summer Palace. From April 6 to 8, Summer Palace will offer a special dinner menu that combines Leung’s modern Cantonese with a bevy of traditional Chinese classics from the restaurant’s executive chef, Liu Ching Hai.
The menu, aptly dubbed ‘X-treme Classics’, is an eight-course, yin-yang showcase of Leung’s renegade dishes contrasted appetisingly against Liu’s classic fare – expect to taste chilli crab xiao long baos right after a good old sliced smoke duck.
It is a good thing that the Demon Chef’s bark is worse than his bite. Listen to the way Leung talks about food, and what surprises us the most is the sentimental, almost tender way he talks about food.
“I modernise it, but I don’t detonate the tradition – the DNA is still there.”
“People think I am angry, but I’m not,” he says. “My food is actually nostalgic, even a bit sentimental. Bo Innovation is about Hong Kong cuisine, so it’s my childhood, my comfort cuisine.
“I modernise it, but I don’t detonate the tradition – the DNA is still there…or maybe I’m just mellowing with age!” He laughs.
Serving as the foil to Leung’s more radical approach to Cantonese cuisine, Summer Palace Executive Chef Liu Ching Hai brings some much needed balance and familiar flavours to an otherwise outlandish menu.
“I think I remain a bit more conservative in my approach,” says Liu. “I always want to showcase the traditional style of cooking Cantonese cuisine in all my dishes – that is what gives each dish character and history.”
“The menu that Chef Leung and I have created works out well because of how different our approaches are – it will be like experiencing old and new Hong Kong on your palate!”
You and Chef Liu Ching Hai from Summer Palace have very different styles. How does this menu come together cohesively?
Being different isn’t a bad thing. Take for example, a marriage. Many times you have two people with different personalities, different sexes and they coexist and are happy. I feel with our menu it’s good that there are contradicting and opposing dishes. Chef Liu’s classic dishes last the test of time so it’s a good platform to compare styles. It’s not a competition of good or bad.
How did you come up with the menu with Chef Liu?
We worked separately in separate cities, but while creating the menu we had an idea about what each other was trying to accomplish, so the goal is to complement the courses and make it work together. Like a duet, you want to harmonise, not take over the stage. We’re not trying to overpower or dominate.
You’ve had several other restaurant concepts of different cuisines, but you keep coming back to Chinese food – what makes it so special?
Well, I’m Chinese! (laughs) Yes, I touch on other cuisines but it’s not that I am coming back to Chinese food. I never left it. Chinese has such a long and diverse history of unparalleled pedigree and heritage, I can draw from a vast library of information and inspiration.
How much of your personality influences your food, or vice versa?
My personality is my food. Everything we do, from the way we talk, to the music we like and the way we cook, is a reflection of personality. Conversely, food affects my personality because I like to eat. The pleasure of being happy is a universal search. My interest in food derives from enjoying and appreciating good food – but you know, sometimes we get more creative when we’re unhappy. It’s an act of catharsis to create and vice versa, I create dishes because I enjoy it. However, I also find if I go on a diet or am hungry, I get very creative too. I am literally hungry for success.
Do you think Singaporeans will be ready for that X-treme Cantonese cuisine of yours?
I will be opening Forbidden Duck in Singapore later in April. It’s traditional Peking duck and classic Cantonese but with some updates. It will offer really good Hong Kong dim sum too. As for whether Singapore is ready for X-treme or anything new, that debate might be relevant 10 years ago when the Lion City was only about hawker stalls and chicken rice, but not now. In the last decade, it has developed a very sophisticated dining scene.
Get a taste of the demon chef’s X-treme Cantonese cuisine at Summer Palace from April 6 to 8.