Chefs often take a liking to the culinary arts for one of two reasons. Either they grew up surrounded by good food, where mealtimes were always special occasions courtesy of a great cook in the family. Or, on the other hand, sometimes parents aren’t the best cooks, which leads kids to start experimenting in the kitchen themselves, and they end up falling in love with the craft. For Alvin, it was the latter that led him to become a chef.
“I was born in the United Kingdom, and growing up as a child, I wasn’t very fond of my mother’s cooking, which meant that I often had to cook for myself. I recall the first dish I ever cooked was a version of spaghetti bolognese. I was 10 years old at that time, and in those days, there was no internet, no cookbook, and no recipe to refer to. I conjured up this dish based on what I saw on TV, and to make it different, I added some curry powder to it — although not a spectacular dish, it was sufficient at my age, and I received many good compliments!”
“I am self-taught, I never went to culinary school, and I never worked under anybody. My inspiration came from watching chefs like Martin Yan and Graham Kerr on culinary TV shows. This early inspiration opened the opportunity to be a chef and go beyond just cooking, towards taking the celebrity chef and showmanship direction. And I am fortunate to have made it.”
As destiny would have it, Leung soon became one of those inspiring chefs on TV – in 2014, he debuted as a judge on MasterChef Canada and still remains one today, among appearances on a handful of other shows. Alvin’s judge position on MasterChef Canada is also so beautifully apt: he’s an aspiration to budding cooks with no formal training, showing them that they can still have great success in the industry without a degree in the culinary arts, just as he has.
“I think being a judge on MasterChef Canada has shown me the potential of people who may not have had any formal culinary education, background or training, like the first winner of MasterChef Canada, Eric Chong. His background is similar to mine, starting as an engineer and working hard to realize a dream of becoming a well-known, Michelin-recognized chef.”
Alvin is also a role model to those who choose to forgo their current jobs and pursue their passions instead; he himself worked as an engineer for two decades before becoming a chef. Now, he gets to bring his dreams to life every day, allowing people to experience the joy of good food that he’s so lovingly prepared.
“Success inspires me. The more successful I am, the more I want it, and I want to remain successful. And I’m not just talking about monetary success, but recognition and appreciation from people for having created a meal and experience they enjoy.”
This notion is something Leung puts forward in all of his restaurants, whether at two-Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, R&D in Toronto or Demon Duck in Dubai. His philosophy is underpinned by an innovative take on Chinese cuisine, reinterpreted with a modern and creative spirit. With each dish he creates, the taste is king, and this is something that can easily be translated to any audience across the world. It’s also one of the reasons why he decided to open up in Dubai.
“Chinese food is quite diverse in that it can be adapted to suit a variety of taste preferences. I created a unique approach to Chinese cuisine, combining heritage recipes passed down through generations with modern-day ingredients and cooking techniques, giving guests something new to be excited about. That being said, the aim with Demon Duck is to bring a creative spin to much-loved Chinese comfort classics along with a Hong Kong-style speakeasy bar featuring a cocktail menu inspired by famous bars, the city’s electrifying buzz, and it’s iconic streets and districts. I want to give my diners an experience, one that combines the flavours of age-old Chinese dishes with pan-Asian and Middle Eastern influences that will wow and leave them wanting to come back for more.”
Alvin has definitely achieved this goal at his Dubai restaurant. As we ourselves experienced on a recent visit to Demon Duck, his cuisine shines a bright new light on traditional Chinese and Asian fare, bringing it to life with bold flavours and refreshing twists. This also perfectly suits the city’s dynamic and burgeoning dining scene, which has seen somewhat of an explosion of top-class gastronomy coming to the fore in the last few years. And deciding to work with the renowned Caesars Palace Dubai was a wise decision from the chef.
“I’ve had Dubai on my radar for a few years now, ever since it started to become known as a culinary wonder world. And I chose to make my Middle Eastern debut at Caesars Palace Dubai because the opportunity presented itself. I received many enquiries in the past, so this is not the first time I’ve been approached to launch here. But, it was important for me to work with someone I know and trust, and Anthony Costa, Regional President at Caesars Palace Dubai, is someone I knew from Hong Kong – so, Tony is one reason because I like him and I trust him. With the popularity of Chinese food and international travel bouncing back, it felt like a great opportunity and the perfect time to present my debut concept here.”
“Dubai is a very diverse, cosmopolitan city, similar to Hong Kong, Toronto and Singapore, where there is a demand for high-quality cuisine, executed to an international standard and with the right ambience to complement it. Dubai, in particular, is extremely luxurious – and I want to stay away from that as the core influence because it may put the experience beyond the requirement of a certain demographic. I want to keep things simple, precise and enjoyable for people of all backgrounds in Dubai to enjoy Demon Duck.”
“Being unique has always been an expectation from my diners. The title ‘Demon Chef’ creates an aura of expectation – be it good or bad. My restaurant provides a unique experience of food that is comforting and creative and dishes you’d like to go back to.”
With a diverse menu that caters to all tastes — from spicy to sweet and salty to sour — Demon Duck is the ideal place for any and every palate. It’s a rare and remarkable venue where diners can go to unwind in an inviting ambience with great food and stellar service. To ensure that his Dubai restaurant has its own distinctive character, Alvin has created some dishes specifically for this venue that incorporate local influences.
“Demon Duck is filled with playfully creative and innovative dishes that are fun yet comforting. I try to make most of my dishes unique in some way or another, and there are certain dishes which are unique to Dubai. In my Sweet and Sour Chicken, I use Turkish delight, adding a hint of rose that complements the lychee and goes very well together. My Pineapple Shawarma dessert is another example of a Middle Eastern twist on my Chinese cuisine. Finally, my Demon Hummus with Crispy Duck is a tribute to a Middle Eastern staple.”
“My cooking style is innovative – so I try to add to each dish I create – and that’s what I want to bring to Dubai. I want to excite our diners and open up their imagination by bringing my unique style of Chinese and Asian cuisine to Dubai because I believe there is a demand for it.”
Of course, with a name like Demon Duck, the menu has to spotlight this delicious bird – and Leung and his team do this in a variety of ways: “Duck is my speciality. Duck is a very versatile dish; it’s a dark meat kind of poultry, like a beefy chicken. You can slow-roast duck, or it can be braised or steamed. There are many ways to cook it. And when you cook it differently, it has different characteristics. The ageing and slow-cooking process that I have developed over the years has yielded some amazing results. So naturally, a signature dish to try at Demon Duck is my Slow Roasted Demon Duck.”
Other highlights on the menu include Crispy Cumin Duck, which features an Arabic touch thanks to specially selected spices, as well as an array of reimagined classics such as the Signature Shrimp On Toast, Chop Chop Suey and Bang Bang Chicken. The Wagyu Short Rib Gyoza and Original Duck Wrap with homemade pancakes, hoisin and sesame, all brimming with Pan-Asian and Arabic nuances, are the perfect starters to whet the appetite before Leung’s Asian feast hits full throttle. Those with a sweet tooth will be equally pleased with an array of delectable treats on the menu, including Toffee, Banana and Peanut Butter Ice Cream and an Aromatic Pineapple Shawarma — Alvin’s inventive sweet take on a Middle Eastern staple.
It’s ever-evident in the chef’s dishes that he doesn’t necessarily have a penchant for specific ingredients; his menu is awash with varied flavours and textures made with wide-ranging products. However, what is clear, is that he has an impressive knack for creating the best pairings with the produce he has on hand.
“I see ingredients more as textures and taste rather than individual ingredients. I do not really have a favourite ingredient, but rather, I have a combination of tastes like hot and sour, sweet and sour, or salty and bitter. I guess I do have an affinity for sour and salty — so my favourite seasoning, I would say, is a combination of vinegar and salt, which is something you taste in my Bang Bang Chicken or the sauces in our Sichuan dishes. So, I see seasoning as a combination of several flavours. Ingredients wise — I’ve always told people that water is always a great ingredient; you can cook and clean with it.”
What’s even more enticing about Leung’s restaurants is that, albeit they serve exceptional cuisine, they deliver on the ambience front, too. Demon Duck is a prime example of this: the contemporary, eclectic space further elevates the dining experience, ensuring that it’s a multi-sensory affair that will leave an impression on guests for a long time to come.
“The restaurant looks like a sexy duck! The décor was designed by a local interior design team, and they’ve done a fantastic job by creating a trendy, sophisticated space. Featuring an outdoor garden terrace and a stylishly modern indoor dining space, Demon Duck has a chic, sophisticated and trendy air, accented with eccentric, quirky depictions of duck art by Hong Kong-based photographer Mark Chung on the walls, to playful graffiti and Middle Eastern-inspired mosaic patterns on crockery designed by Monica Tsang.”
All in all, Demon Duck is certainly a prized addition to the Dubai culinary scene and is a jewel in the crown of Caesar Palace Dubai’s already impressive bouquet of food and beverage venues. Offering a one-of-a-kind gastronomic experience accented by Leung’s energetic and playful spirit, it’s an unmissable dining destination in Dubai.