He is stubborn. When a dish he’s made doesn’t work for his customers, Kelvin Cheung would rather take it off the menu than adapt it. For example, when he designed the menu for the new Bandra resto bar, One Street Over, where he heads the kitchen, Cheung wanted to create something with corn and shrimp, something “very South American.” The Canadian-Chinese chef, who became popular in Mumbai’s food scene by creating edgy versions of main dishes at Colaba’s Ellipsis, came up with an idea. He baked cornbread crumble with lemongrass. “It didn’t translate to customer taste. I loved it and I will use it on the menu, but not here,” says the 36-year-old.
As with any rule, there are exceptions to this one – his father. “I cook for him, but not my style. He wants his food his way. He doesn’t like herbs or spices. So if I use these when I cook for him, I have to mask them,” says Cheung, who idolizes his restaurant father. “He has a pretty great story,” the chef says.
Old man Cheung moved to New York from Hong Kong at the age of 18, with $20 in his pocket. He started as a server at a restaurant in Chinatown, worked his way up, while also studying business administration. “He is among the upper echelons of restaurateurs serving Hong Kong Cantonese, has eight restaurants today and is about to open another,” said the chef, who had returned home after his nearly four-year stint at Ellipsis last year. year ended. It is also at the family business that he was first introduced to the kitchen at the age of 12, starting with the dishes.
Cheung inherits stubbornness from his father. He realized early on that he is not suitable for hotels. “My style doesn’t fit with the environment, which is more structured and dependent on numbers. Very often I got a call from HR because I was yelling or having an attitude,” he says.
Cheung prefers to get up in the morning to buy fresh products from the market, brainstorm and do what he does best: experiment. While he doesn’t like conforming to any particular food genre, Cheung believes every menu should follow a “otherwise it could be anywhere” philosophy. At One Street Over, the compact menu consists of small plates, main courses and all three desserts. While every dish seems familiar, Cheung’s brand of innovation is apparent when one tastes it. Take, for example, the Kung Pao broccoli with peanuts, peppers and hoisin sauce, or the fried chicken he serves with waffle, maple syrup, honey and truffle oil. The dishes have a distinctly Asian twist, perhaps due to his collaboration with Chef Boo Kwang Kim, who moved from Chicago to Mumbai for this venture.
The menu, Cheung adds, aligns with the restaurant’s philosophy. One Street Over, which is his collaboration with Aalia Hospitality, is centered on the bar. “We want it to be a place where working professionals hang out a few times a week,” he says, explaining that the place is unlike any other in the area, which caters mainly to students and strives for grades. So the menu steers clear of the bar staples like nachos, hummus, and fries. Instead, it offers green beans or cauliflower, served with dressings like cashew hummus or soy-garlic dressing — “healthy dishes you won’t mind a few times a week.”
While Cheung has established himself as a chef in both the Indian and international culinary scene and embarked on an independent path, success for him will come with his father’s approval. “I hear he likes what I’ve accomplished, but he’ll never tell me. He’s an old-fashioned Chinese guy and our relationship is kind of awkward — we’ve hugged three times in our lives,” Cheung says, “Our phone calls last two minutes, where he asks me how I’m doing, why I’m not at work, says he’s busy and hangs up.”
Of course, for Cheung his father remains the benchmark. ‘Not nine, but I’d like to have one restaurant. A small place – maybe smaller than One Street Over, where I make and serve food the way I want, the kind I like,” he says.