I Know Exactly What I Want to Serve and I Won’t Settle for Anything Less - Kelvin Cheung

Photography credits to BLANK ART

1. Tell us about your background and journey.

I was raised in restaurants. My father is a restaurateur, and while I started cooking at a very young age, my first official job in a restaurant was as a dishwasher for my father’s restaurant. He made me work my way up and prove myself before I was ever allowed to actually cook in the kitchen.

From there, I went to culinary school at Kendall College in Chicago, won a few cooking championships, followed by a passion for cooking to Belgium, Canada, the United States, and eventually India. I have worked for two hospitality companies in Mumbai and moved to Delhi at the end of 2019 as the Chef Partner of Dadel and Kiko-Ba.

One of my favourite things about cooking in Delhi is the proximity to so many incredible farms and farmers doing fantastic work. Everyone seems to be oozing with passion and its infectious. Interacting directly with farmers. I’m a massive fan of building long term relationships with farmers and working towards a product that they are proud of, is purchased at a fair price, and that is sometimes even customized for my menu.

In the past, I’ve worked with cheesemakers to perfect burrata, helped hydroponic green growers perfect their salad, and persuaded a farmer that picking of vegetables at their peak was better for him than waiting for them to grow to their largest - when he thought that he would make the most profit. If we’re willing to pay a fair price, we will get a higher quality product.

2. What led you to take up this career path?

My father wasn’t very excited when I said I wanted to join the hospitality industry like him. Growing up in a typical Asian household, my parents wanted me to become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer. I tried to follow the path they envisioned for me and started on a degree focused on medicine, but my heart said cooking.

Against all advice, I joined a culinary school where I received a Bachelors Degree and became a chef.

3. What does your typical day look like?

It’s a bit difficult to answer this one during the lockdown. I haven’t lived a typical day in months. What it always includes is a black coffee, a workout, a gratitude list, my wife and son, and some type of creative outlet.

4. Does one's approach change when cooking professionally and at home?

The only thing the two sometimes have in common is the heart.

5. Is there a dish you particularly associate yourself with?

Food-wise, I am currently inspired by my late father. Eddy was known for his modern Hong Kong-style Cantonese food. His dishes are literally worth their weight in gold. Just like my previous two stints in Mumbai in Bandra and Colaba, everything was completely different, but everything also stayed the same. If that makes sense!

While my plating style changes with age, you can always expect a focus on exhibiting the diversity of Asian food, highlighting traditional cooking techniques and contemporary globally inspired flavours, along with native sustainably sourced ingredients.

I’ve changed dramatically as a person over the past two years so it only makes sense that my food as well. Even the way I create dishes has changed. I know exactly what I want to serve and I won’t settle for anything less.  

6. Can cooking be learnt at culinary schools or natural talent is required?

I think cooking can be learned as everything can be. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and practice. And the learning never ends. So no, natural talent isn’t required - like they say “Practice makes perfect!”. The number of hours you put in will always show.

7. Which is your favourite book and why?

The Reach of A Chef and The Souls of Chef by Michael Ruhlman because it shows the real lives and journey of chefs. It also reminds me every time I read it if why I love this life and profession as a chef so much. It’s a lot of hard work, long hours, and gruelling conditions, but there’s no other career I could imagine myself in!

Interview By - Benil Joseph

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