STYLE

R+D: Collaboration between 'MasterChef Canada' winner and judge set to open

04/06/2015 06:23 EDT | Updated 06/06/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - "MasterChef Canada" judge Alvin Leung knew the reality show's Season 1 winner Eric Chong had enough culinary talent to make it in the restaurant business, but he wasn't sure about his work ethic.

So Leung put him to the test in Asia.

"I wanted to see whether or not he was hardworking, whether or not he had the drive, the hunger," said Leung, a Michelin-starred chef with restaurants in Hong Kong and London. "In working with him for a couple of weeks (in Hong Kong) I found out he had."

Leung, 54, was convinced enough to go into business with Chong, 23, and the two will open the doors to R + D Restaurant on Tuesday in Toronto's Chinatown.

The name is a nod to Chong and Leung's "rebel and demon" personas and refers to their engineering backgrounds, referencing the term "research and development."

Leung is nicknamed the Demon Chef, and has invented his own cuisine he calls X-Treme Chinese.

"Well, you know, Eric, he's a rebel himself," said Leung, who holds three Michelin stars at Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and one Michelin star at Bo London. "The family was very against him doing cooking. He has a degree in engineering. I have a degree in engineering. It wasn't meant for him to follow this path. He went against his family wishes. Now I think his family is over the moon. He won ('MasterChef Canada'). And he's doing something he likes to do."

Large murals in the dining space feature Chinese-inspired street art and their menu is a tribute to Canada's cultural mix. Chong will work as a sous chef under executive chef Nelson Tsai.

"Eric is young. He has to earn," said Leung, who was raised in Toronto. "You really need to earn your stars or earn your stripes and he has to do that. So he's not going in as executive chef. He hasn't earned it yet. But he will. Eventually he will."

Ceviche is a nod to Latin America, sweet and sour flavours are from China and tongue and matzo ball come from the Jewish population, all combining the chefs' passions for bold flavours.

"We both grew up in Canada," said Leung. "Eric grew up in a much different era. I grew up when the Leafs were winning. He grew up when the Leafs were losing and I'm sure (when he has) his children the Leafs will still be losing.

"There are dishes there, like chop suey, he doesn't know of because that was more my era, but chicken and waffle, which I know nothing about. So he has his input, I have my input."

Chong, who packed in his engineering job to practise for "MasterChef Canada" once he knew he'd made it into the top 50 contenders, said those skills help him with cooking.

"Being an engineer helps you think logistically and efficiently and that always helps me in the kitchen, helps me plan out my steps, work efficiently, work fast and it helped us create the menu.

"We always thought of the logistics before actually coming up with a dish," Chong said, adding he and Leung broke down the recipes for each dish to the gram and made detailed notes on steps and equipment so that all chefs in the restaurant will be able to recreate each dish exactly.

Being on "MasterChef Canada" "was definitely the most beneficial thing I've ever done in my life. It got me to where I am now," he added.

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