You may have encountered chef Kelvin Cheung’s over-the-top cakes, known as #KelCakes, or heard about his work that spun the destiny of popular restaurants around for good. His mission has always been to make food relatable and enjoyable, even if it’s fine dining. He believes that food should always relate, jog people’s memories and provide comfort. He began work in his father’s kitchen at 12, and his love for food and cooking is ingrained in his character.
A mere glance at the chef’s Instagram, and you know he’s got more than just a penchant for experimenting with food trends — be it the most decadent cookies (#KelCookies) or Gochujang pasta for K-Drama fans. Breaking down complex recipes and imparting tips and tricks in short reels, in a way only an expert can, he spends time imparting tidbits of his life to his followers. Be it an easy way to make pho or labneh custard toast or how to amplify a simple dish like grilled cheese – he has something delectable for everyone.
After traveling the world extensively, Cheung is all set for his Dubai debut. His new menu is innovative, adventurous, relatable, and nostalgic.
If you end up dining at his latest restaurant in Downtown Dubai, Jun’s, which is opening soon, do ask the chef about the story of the tattoos on his arm. While each has a meaning, the secret is they are a cover of burns in the kitchen, a common occurrence, the chef says, and a part of the job. Hidden between the many tattoos nostalgic for all the places he’s visited is a paper plane, which he admits has no meaning. It’s a “spur of the moment” tattoo during one of his trips to Miami. This seems to reflect his journey of exploration, moving on to bigger challenges and incorporating innovation in his food.
Food at Jun’s will be “progressive, modern Asian but nostalgic North American”. “It’s very specific to what I cooked and ate growing up. The beauty of Asian food is wherever you are in the world, there is always a local Thai or Chinese spot around the corner. Those flavors are what I’ll capture nostalgically, but elevated in a modern way,” he says.
He reinvented fine dining in his previous work, his food stands apart for not just being insta-worthy. Known for his understanding of food, from paper to water, his love for experimenting with food was critical for expanding his palate. In an exclusive video interview part of Fast Gourmet, the chef shares his favorite food and where he goes in Dubai to enjoy them.
He’s worked for months to prepare the new menu as each dish tells of a memory. “The salmon dish, for example, is a homage to my days as a sous chef in Vancouver. Before or after service, we would run to the nearby river and catch a lot of salmon. We’d be so hungry, as we’d come right before work or after, so we’d catch fresh fish, butcher it right on the river bed, and carry some citrus, wasabi, and soya sauce and eat fresh fish straight from the river. So I will capture those flavors and present them in a modern, clean form.”
Cheung explains that his approach to leadership has evolved over the years. He started as a standard, typical angry chef. However, now he’s started to eliminate negative energy from his kitchen through innovative, fun ways.
He applies a rule in his kitchen to all, including himself, “You make a mistake you do push-ups. There’s no negative reinforcement by de-escalating a serious issue and making it a game. In essence, if I had ten people in the kitchen, including myself, everyone would have made a mistake by the end of the day. It’s something as simple as plating, cutting, or seasoning something incorrectly; there’s always room for error. If it’s butcher day and I’m cutting fifty salmon, one of them will be slightly off somehow. It happens. You’re never going to be a 100/100 all the time.”
By involving physical activity that relieves the mental load on the staff and reduces stress, Cheung has found a new way to make his team laugh at the end of the day.
As the interview comes to a close, we ask the chef if he’s considering a Dubai-inspired tattoo. He says that’s an idea definitely on the charts until he finds the right inspiration.