TORONTO: Chinese-Canadian chef Kelvin Cheung’s culinary journey began at the age of 12, while working at his father’s restaurant in Chicago. He’s come a long way since then, with stints in Toronto, Vancouver, Delhi, Mumbai and now Dubai.
While in India, Cheung was a favorite of several Bollywood celebrities, and he is becoming something of a celebrity himself, thanks to social media. His latest venture — Jun’s — is already making waves on the Dubai culinary scene with its “elevated North American and Asian dining experience.”
If you’re not sure what that means, consider tempura za’atar chaat – a surprising mix of za’atar, tempura, tamarind, yogurt and chaat masala or lamb koobideh, which includes traditional bindings of the koobideh, as well as the nikiri and the egg. egg yolk sauce, with kimchi jam.
Cheung says Jun’s is rooted in his Chinese heritage, North American upbringing and French culinary training. And he emphasizes that he tries to source the freshest ingredients from local farms.
Here, Cheung talks about discipline, noodles and learning leadership, and reveals his “perfect Sunday brunch recipe.”
Q. What is your best advice for home cooks?
A. Cooking is a difficult skill that you never really master, but discipline is key. Expect to be a lifelong student.
Q. What is an ingredient that can instantly improve any dish?
A. Salt. You need to add salt to enhance and flavor the rest of the ingredients, as well as to balance the dish, especially the desserts. Many inexperienced chefs struggle with (getting the right amount of salt). It takes experience, muscle memory and confidence.
Q. What is your favorite cuisine to eat?
A. Japanese. Especially the sushi.
Q. When you go out to eat, do you ever criticize the food?
A. Never criticize, always observe… I like to hear the story of what inspired a dish or how it came about. Entering the mind of a chef is always so interesting for me.
Q. What is your favorite dish to cook?
A. I love making noodles. My wife and son are obsessed with noodles, and I make them a bowl from scratch. I take a whole chicken and beef bones to make a super rich and potent bone broth. It’s nutritionally dense, hearty and delicious. Cook the noodles, prepare the toppings and sauces, and serve my loved ones a hot, steaming bowl of delicious noodle soup. It fills my heart.
Q. If you have to cook something quickly, what is your favorite dish?
A. Eggs. They are essential to us. They are healthy, convenient, accessible, affordable and something we all love.
Q. What is the most difficult dish on your menu?
A. Jun’s burger. It’s simple and no frills, but you have to be precise every time. We weigh the exact ratio between pancake and bun. We use four cuts of wagyu beef, which are then diced by hand to make the patty. The execution must be perfect. We cook the patties until the edges are crispy, while making sure the burger stays juicy.
Q. Are you a strict boss?
A. My leadership style has changed dramatically over the years. I was trained in Chinese and French kitchens where there were high expectations and no room for error. So it took me a while to practice being a less reactive leader. Becoming a father and reading about parenting styles was a big catalyst for profound change.
Although I steer a very tight ship in terms of organization and performance, I believe in teaching and modeling, rather than barking orders. I’m very proud to say that some of my team members have been with me for almost a decade now, moving cities and countries to continue on my team.
Chef Kelvin’s Pumpkin Congee
1 kg fresh pumpkin – seeded, peeled and diced
8 cups water or vegetable broth
1 button ginger, peeled and sliced
¾ cup sweet jasmine rice, well rinsed
Salt, white pepper and light soy sauce for seasoning
1 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
½ cup chili oil (for garnish)
½ cup green onions, chopped
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
In a saucepan, bring the water or vegetable broth to a boil. Add pumpkin and ginger; simmer until pumpkin is tender.
Remove half of the pumpkin. Crush or puree and set aside.
In the same pot, add the rice and simmer until cooked through. Now add the pumpkin puree.
Season with salt, white pepper and light soy sauce. Mix well.
Garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds, chili oil, green onions and green cilantro. Serve.