Hong Kong's celebrity chef mixes the traditions of China with modern techniques and unusual presentation. The "demon chef" has already won three Michelin stars at his restaurant Bo Innovation.
Only those who have managed to secure one of the six spots at the bar in front of the kitchen at Bo Innovation, at the Chef's Table, can delight in this delicate composition by Alvin Leung – a quail egg smoked over tea leaves in a nest of deep-fried strips of taro, garnished with a generous spoon of Ossetra caviar. The appetiser can be found on the extensive 14 course Chef's Table Menu and is Leung's tribute to the Chinese Dim-Sum tradition. Soup dumplings from Shanghai provided the inspiration for this dish. In Leung's "X-treme Chinese" cooking style, the dumplings are exaggerated gastronomically and visually with unrestrained touches of luxury: abundant sturgeon eggs and a smidgen of gold leaf that the head chef applies himself with tweezers before the nests are served in a silver-plated tree.
Leung wants to make dining at Bo Innovation an experience that appeals to all senses. This is why the Chinese chef, who was born in London and grew up in Toronto, also designed practically all place settings and cutlery. They provide a fitting backdrop for his creations and beguile gourmets to behold his food as if on stage. Guests use chopsticks, cutlery or fingers to feel their food before tasting it.
The silver-plated bird cages act as a glittering eye-catcher above the entrance to the kitchen. At first glance, they are reminiscent of the songbird cages in a traditional Chinese market. As the meal ends, Leung's guests find the cages on their table, as this is how the head chef serves his "eight treasures" – a selection of Chinese-Western confectionery such as coconut jelly or a meringue perfumed with chrysanthemums.
Molecular cuisine – whether foam or dehydrated powder – is simply a means to an end for Leung. His aim is not to confuse, rather to gently surprise in terms of the look, taste and aroma of his dishes.
"Ultimately the food has to taste good and awaken the guest's desire to return", says the "demon chef" as he describes his creations, which combine the ingredients and qualities of Western and Chinese cuisine. "I want to toy with my guests and take them to the edge of comfort."
Best example: "Dandan noodles" — a traditional, inexpensive snack from Sichuan. At Bo this dish becomes a molecular work of art with paprika spiced pine nut purée, sous-vide diced apple and foam made from marinated Chinese vegetables, in which the actual ingredients — squid and egg noodles — simply provide the geometric decoration.
Colourful contrasts and especially the interplay between black and white are Leung's trademarks. This is also true of the fish course with gently poached cod fillet on a gleaming white plate. The fish is prepared with an intensive powder created from Yunnan ham and mandarin peel, poached scoops of potato and a crispy taro chip plus a couple of drops of mayonnaise, which lend the essence of spring onion. In the following course, the trained acoustics engineer Leung turns up the volume a little more on his Western/Far-Eastern composition. Leung follows up the cod with rock lobster from the west coast of Australia, which is served on a broth of Chinese Kweichou wine with a spicy Sichuan Hollandaise, gently charred maize kernels and a leek dumpling.
The "demon chef" is a classic example of an autocrat in the kitchen. The creations are his work. His word is law.
Text: Steffan Heuer