World of Watches was privileged to meet with two great chefs that are going to Wok the World with their culinary expertise. Wok the World is one of the newest addition to the popular variety of culinary shows originated from Korea. Starring 3 Michelin starred “demon Chef” Alvin Leong and the winner of Masterchef Canada season 1 Eric Chong, the show will travel around Asia to draw inspiration from each local culture before both chefs contruct their very own gastronomic creations. The two chefs will be accompanied by official timer, Maurice Lacroix as the programme showcases each of their creativity, cooking skills and most importantly, precision.
Interview with 3 Michelin Starred Chef Alvin Leong
You were originally trained as an engineer. What steered you to the culinary world?
I think Food. I love to eat. I think that is always a good reason because you can always cook for yourself and your family. I started relatively late but I have been lucky, so I have been relatively successful in the short time that I have been a chef. The change from an engineer to a chef for me wasn’t a big one. First of all, all people love to eat, it doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer or a cook. Secondly, engineers are very creative and chefs can be very creative as well because nowadays people want new things. And most importantly, in creating new things; It’s not like art where you create something and people look at it once, get excited, go away and come back to look at it again. Food is something you consume everyday. So you have to be a lot more practical in your approach. That means that you can create something new but it has to be comfortable. Food is not like a movie. So I think the practicality in an engineer applies to cooking. Everything around us is the result of innovation from an engineer. If you look at it that way, engineers are very creative people, but what they create are also very practical and comfortable and this is what food has to be as well.
Known as the demon chef, how/ where do you get your inspiration for your creative cuisine such as the famous edible condoms on a mushroom beach?
Everywhere. I think if you can get inspiration from everywhere, it gives you a much bigger library. Nowadays you have a phone, you Google when you need information. But the problem with it is that you only Google when you need information, not inspiration – these are different. Information is something very concrete, it has been written down, and it has been done before. Inspiration is something that is not here now.
I would say visual things excite me. So I look at things around me for inspiration; say the colour red, and I think of strawberries, black and I think of Chocolate. So gathering inspiration from everything in life is what I do. There are also other things that inspire me, not just about cooking but what keeps me going. Sometimes when I look at really hardworking chefs, it inspires me to work harder! I’m naturally born lazy, so there are a lot of things that could inspire me. But the main thing that keeps me going is success. I’m very practical. There are a lot of things I want to be – I wanted to be an actor, musician, and an athlete but I know I won’t be the best at it but I like to keep it as a hobby. What I do now (Cooking), I love to do, but I’m also serious at it. There’s a difference between a hobby, a passion and something serious that you want to do with your life.
“the main thing that keeps me going is success,”
If you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Some people will say something spiritual, but spiritual doesn’t feed me. Being very practical, I would say it’s got to be more than one thing – I got to have the protein the fiber and everything. So I would say soup. Soup has meat, carbohydrates and vegetables and contains all the essential and also I love the comfort of the warmth.
Any favourite soup in particular?
The one my wife makes.
What is the best and the worst thing about owning a Michelin star restaurant?
The best thing about owning a Michelin star is that you have succeeded and achieved the highest honour possible. It’s the Oscar of the culinary world. But as my friend once said, you can only go down from here. You have reached the top and you are only left with the only one pathway. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. I am one of the rare chefs who are self-trained. And also, I started with two stars, went down to one, went back to two and then three. Life is not all roses and sometimes if something bad happens to you, you learn from it. If you embrace it, you can go back up again. So the good thing about this is that, it is an honour and I earned it. Michelin is an honour and most importantly, it is recognized by one of the oldest authority in the culinary world. People hear of Michelin star restaurants and they want to go to the restaurant. So the bad thing about it is that people now come with a perceived expectation. And you can never meet expectations and make them happy, you can only exceed it. That’s human nature. We come, we expect, we receive – that doesn’t make us happy. We are just satisfied. The human mind is a greedy one. So I guess that is the setback for me.
Interview with friend of luxury watch brand Maurice Lacroix and Masterchef Canada Season 1 winner Eric Chong
What inspired you to join MasterChef?
Growing up I was a really fat kid, I really enjoyed food and my grandfather was a dim sum chef. So growing up I always have good food around me, both my grandfather and mother are phenomenal cooks, so I grew up eating very well, my parents spoilt me and I got to a point where I was tired of being dependent on eating my parents’ food; I want to make it myself. So I first started when I was six. My grandfather taught me how to make dumplings. So I was folding dim sum when I was six, and from there I fell in love with cooking.
Of course, being from an Asian background, my family wanted me to be like a doctor or an engineer. So I ended up taking chemical engineer, but when the MasterChef competition came, I was fortunate enough to win.
You were the youngest winner of MasterChef at the time. What would you say was the best and worst thing about that?
I think being the youngest to win Masterchef has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages being having a very long life to go from there, to make use of what you’ve just accomplished and make something out of it. You have so much time to grow and to develop and become successful. I never thought of the win as “Oh I’ve peaked at such a young age”, I just thought that this was such a great way to get my foot in the door; into the culinary world. Without it, I would probably have to take another 10 years to where I am now.
The disadvantages would be the difficulty to get people’s respect at such a young age. Being a boss and an owner at such a young age is difficult because people have been in the industry for almost as long as I’ve been alive and they are working for me, so it is kind of like a power struggle.
“Winning MasterChef was dream number one. Now that I have conquered that, my next goal would be to open a fine dining restaurant and to be able to be as creative as I want,”
What are some of the things you have planned for the future that you haven’t accomplished?
I definitely still want to open a fine dining restaurant. Right now my restaurant in Toronto is kind of casual with about 85 seats. Winning MasterChef was dream number one. Now that I have conquered that, my next goal would be a fine dining restaurant and to be able to be as creative as I want, not so many seats – maybe like 20 seats, and just do like a tasting menu where I can make a name for myself. Because only fine dining restaurants seem to put them on the map.
What is your number 1 rule as a chef and why?
My number one rule is consistency, where you can replicate the dish the exact same way a hundred times. As an engineer, I try to make things efficient and logical and I’m very precise. All my recipes are weighed down to the gram. Some people use cups and tablespoons but I literally weigh everything so that it can be as precise as possible. I want to reduce the amount of human error to the slightest possible. Many people don’t think about it but when you come to my restaurant, a new cook needs to cook a dish as good as me. You shouldn’t be able to taste who made that dish. It should taste the exact same.
If you can only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
It would have to be lobster. I absolutely love lobsters. I don’t even like it because it’s expensive; I liked it before it became expensive. It’s one of the most versatile seafood – you can use it in pasta and soups and bisque and stir-fry. Almost every cuisine has a way of using lobster. I just love everything about the meat, the texture, the shell has flavour, even the head has the most flavour.