We meet the celebrity chef behind X-treme Chinese cooking to chat about his restaurant at Banyan Tree Dubai.
Alvin Leung, the celebrity chef behind Demon Duck in Caesars Palace Dubai, is laughing. He’s talking about how it feels to have fun when cooking, and his whole face is lighting up. “That’s my personality. I love to have a lot of fun. I have always been swimming against the tide, swimming upstream instead of downstream,” he smiles wickedly.
Many chefs behind fine dining restaurants are – let’s be honest – stuffy beings, but there’s none of that with Alvin. This is a man who is nicknamed the Demon Chef and creates what he calls X-Treme Chinese cuisine. He has joined us in tinted shades worthy of Bono, a dangling earring, and blue and green hair – so far, so rock n roll. The only indication that he is a chef is the jacket with his name emblazoned on it.
Before third culture kids called themselves that, Alvin was notching up multihyphenated identities. He is an English-born, Hong Kong Canadian chef. He grew up in a middle-class Chinese family in Canada during the 1960s. “My inspiration for cooking was because my mother was such a bad cook. In order to eat, I had to fend for myself and cook,” he jokes.
Today, he has used his melting pot background to help create restaurants across the world in London, Shanghai, Toronto and now Dubai. Demon Duck opened in March 2022, and quickly gained a reputation for its slow-roasted, crispy Peking duck.
The restaurant made its way into the MICHELIN Guide Dubai – a rare feat for a venue that was only open for three months. But this is Alvin and his restaurants have won three MICHELIN Stars: two for Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, and one for Bo London.
On the MICHELIN Guide Dubai, he enthuses: “It is always great to be acknowledged in such a short amount of time, so hat’s off to the team. There’s always pressure. I get asked, ‘is it harder to get it or harder to keep it?’ I say, ‘both’. Now we have to work hard to keep it, which is always good inspiration.”
Demon Duck is Alvin’s first restaurant in the Middle East. He was persuaded by his long-term friend Antony Costa, Regional President of Caesars Palace Dubai, to come to the city. He recalls: “I had many offers before, but I was slow to respond. When Tony called me and said – ‘Asian, Caesars Palace, Dubai’ – it was a no brainer.
“I like Dubai’s energy and the culinary scene. They have everything, it’s so diverse. I have seen lots of luxurious restaurants, and people here love luxury. I have to wear my sunglasses when I see a car go by, that’s how luxurious it is,” he chuckles. “Some people say it’s pretentious, but I love to see people spoil themselves. Plus, what I sell is a product for them to enjoy, and there is nothing wrong with that.”
While Alvin is bringing it with the luxury – the menu has scallop dumplings with caviar and gold leaf – can he still have his fun? This is a chef who is a judge on MasterChef Canada and once created a daring dish for charity, it went viral on social media. Sure, Demon Duck’s decor is packed with personality from neon signs to a painting declaring, “don’t duck with me”. But, is this less X-treme Chinese and more PG13 Chinese?
He answers: “I don’t think my hands are tied. I try to get away with what I can get away with. That’s why it’s called X-treme Chinese, provocative causes a lot of controversy. Sometimes it’s good as it stirs up the world and gives me attention, but I don’t need that to be successful. I love to be playful.
“This is a rather liberal part of the Middle East. This is a place where people are free to do things that they may not do elsewhere. Even if I were to do this in another part of the Middle East where the laws are stricter, I would still find my fun.”
It’s clear that Alvin-style adaptations can be fun. Demon Duck has drawn inspiration from local ingredients and traditions, as he has his own take on hummus (“my version has a touch of demon and a touch of Asian”), lamb (“here people eat so much lamb”), and, of course, pork (“I don’t miss it, as I can use other substitutes to make delicious dishes”).
He adds: “I like to work backwards and do something that people enjoy, rather than make things and expect people to enjoy it. Most of my restaurants, if not all, are Asian or Asian related. In the Middle East, people like their food with more spice and stronger flavours. So, rather than doing straightforward Cantonese, I want to grab everybody. There is Schezwan with more heat, recipes with a Malaysian feel and Northern Chinese Peking Duck.”
With the region, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, expanding at a rapid pace, are there more offers for restaurants on the table? “Yes, I have offers and I am interested. I have been bitten by the Middle East bug. I love the people, they are friendly, accommodating and open. It would be a dream for me to open more premises in the Middle East,” he concludes with that signature smile.
For now, if you want to join the fun, you’ll have to head to Demon Duck in Caesars Palace Dubai. With fantastic food, finesse and Alvin-filled fun, you’ll be smiling, too.
GO: Visit www.caesars.com for more information.