31 Aug 2016
Food innovation is at the heart of the success of two of Asia’s celebrated chefs. Hong Kong’s Alvin Leung is the creative brains behind the three-star Michelin Bo Innovation. Dubbed the “Demon Chef,” Chef Alvin has redefined Chinese cuisine using molecular gastronomy and an extreme Chinese style. The restaurant’s signature dishes include a molecular Pork Bun, and the Bo Baba, which is a take on a Cantonese dessert comprising a conventional bread centre, filled with Chinese orange cream and finished with sweet potato ice cream and chestnut puree on the side.
Korean chef Matthew J Chung operates the modern American-style restaurant The Beastro in Seoul’s Hongdae district. Featuring classic American fare, the restaurant’s signature dishes include crispy truffle roasted chicken and their 24-hour hanger steak.
The chefs took part in a live cooking demonstration at the HKTDC Food Expo, 11-15 August, where they discussed some of the key trends in Asia’s vibrant dining scene.
Chef Matthew, you made the traditional Korean favourite Bibimbap at the cooking demonstration. How do you reinvent this Korean staple while preserving the traditional qualities of the dish?
Chef Matthew: I think that transformation itself is preservation. By transforming the original idea of the dish; for instance Bibimbap, you help the dish evolve to match the times it is served in. Bibimbap was perhaps not called Bibimbap many hundreds of years ago, but through its evolution, we have come to be able to know it today, and that's a good thing.
Chef Alvin: In order to preserve, you have to keep the basics intact, but the way in which those [basics] are presented is a different story. One has to be very creative as a chef.
Chef Alvin, you have been described as the “El Bulli” of Asia. What sets Bo Innovation apart from other culinary experiences in the city?
Well, Bo Innovation is Chinese food at the end of the day. But the approach to Bo is what is interesting for the customer. Our techniques and use of molecular gastronomic processes elevates the customer’s taste and sensory experiences.
“I’m not going to be putting whale on my menu anytime soon.”
How important is the issue of sustainability for the restaurant industry?
Chef Alvin: Sustainability is certainly a factor in considering food choice and ingredients. I like to source most of my ingredients locally so that we don't have to have a shipment, hence we can reduce our carbon footprint. Also, locally sourced food is cheaper and fresher. We are now making an effort to use less energy in producing the food.
Chef Matthew: It is important for us to pay attention to the way we eat. Sustainability in terms of environment, in which we pay attention to the species or type of fish. For instance, I’m not going to be putting whale on my menu anytime soon. So we should be careful about what we eat.
Chef Alvin, as a self-taught start-up chef in Hong Kong, what are the major challenges facing small restaurant businesses?
Hong Kong people these days have high expectations of their food, and rightfully so. In Hong Kong especially, rent is one insurmountable challenge that restaurants face. Also, Hong Kong is a food city; it is a place with many, many good restaurants, so it is important to be able to distinguish yourself to the customer. That is also a challenge in itself, being creative and sticking to your plan in a challenging and very diverse market place. Hong Kong presents a big market, so finding your niche is a process that can be slow. I think that Korean food has distinguished itself well with its spicy taste and Korean food is currently very popular in Hong Kong. People want to be excited these days; they want something outside the box.
How has Hong Kong contributed to your success as a restaurant operator?
Chef Alvin: Hong Kong has many services to offer, and ingredients are also plentiful as you can see here at the food fair. It helps very much that Hong Kong has open access to the international market place. My experience as an engineer has also helped me to grow as a chef. I believe that engineers are taught to build things and combine in a very logical manner. Yet, engineers are underrated in the world today, just as chefs are. People should start seeing that being a chef is a creative job one can succeed in.