Toronto’s Top Chefs: Asian

VINCENT LEUNG

He may be newly appointed to Executive Chef status at Senses Restaurant in the Soho Metropolitan Hotel, but, as Sara Waxman discovers, Vincent Leung is no rookie in the kitchen.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: My first job was under [former corporate Executive Chef] Patrick Lin at Hemispheres Restaurant [at the Metropolitan Hotel Toronto]. I worked and trained with him for two and a half years. That was a while ago. I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now. But my parents wanted me to have a career, either banking, doctor, or lawyer, they are classic Asian parents. I wanted to get into cooking before university. My parents said: ‘No, you have to go to school first.’ I went to Forest Hill Collegiate [in Toronto] then went on to study economics at the University of Western Ontario. So I did fulfill my promise to get a degree and at least finish school, and then fulfilled my dream afterwards.

CURRICULUM VITAE CUISINE: I also worked at Lai Wah Heen restaurant [at the Metropolitan]. In 2004, I was promoted to first Cook, which I was until 2006. That year, I earned the Red Seal Certification, and traveled through China, Japan and Thailand and explored the food. I could sample and be inspired by the various cuisines, flavours and culture of these regions. In Hong Kong, I apprenticed at Le Parisien, with an east-meets-west menu and then I went on to work at The Forum Restaurant. It was here that I experienced true Cantonese cooking.

THE LONG WAY HOME: Once I came back to Canada, I was able to use my new skills at Monsoon restaurant which specialized in Asian-fusion. When Patrick Lin was appointed Executive Head Chef at Senses, he recruited me, and I could continue cooking with my east-meets-west approach. By 2009 I was appointed sous chef. Then in 2010 went to open Habitat at the Grand Rockies Resort. Now I have returned to Toronto, and was appointed Executive Chef at Senses Restaurant.

DINING BY DEFINITION: We do pan-Asian. More French techniques using Asian ingredients as well as certain Asian flavours as part of our menu. For example, we do have a Peking-style duck, which we do using the same methodology but we serve it using a traditional French technique, which is medium rare, thinly sliced with pan-seared king oyster mushrooms. As compared to Asian cuisine where the duck is cooked all the way through, I find it too tough, so this is a nice balance between the two.

FATHER KNOWS BEST: My father is one of the factors as to why I do it. While my mom is a great cook, my dad primarily did the cooking at home. And he works in I.T.!

GO WEST, YOUNG MAN: Opening Habitat, at the Grand Rockies Resort [a Metropolitan hotel] in Canmore, Alberta in 2010 provided me experience to grow as a chef, developing my own style and techniques, which I am bringing to Senses. Habitat was voted the Best New Restaurant for the Rockies Region, and I was among the Top 40 Under 40 in a prominent western magazine.

HE MEANS BUSINESS: When I started in this industry, it was all about learning how to cook, and do all the proper techniques. Now that I’ve moved on to Executive Chef, I’ve moved on to the parts like managing the financing, human resources, all the administrative work. My background [at Western] does help. Then I went to George Brown to study French cuisine, applicable everywhere. A sauté is a sauté, a braise is a braise, but I still prefer the Asian style food. Like Japanese food is it for me. While not technically heavy, it’s technically heavy in terms of presentation and knife work and details. And that’s what I find interesting, that kind of cuisine. Still, I think it would be nice to get a Michelin Star.

Senses, Soho Metropolitan Toronto, 318 Wellington St., W., (416) 599-8800; (866) 764-6638; www.metropolitan.com

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