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Beautiful food

JEREME Leung, a star among Asia’s most famous chefs, was “painting” 20 white plates with tiny green, purple, and blue leaves, half a slice of a red tomato, a minuscule pair of candied kumquat in a translucent gold-orange, three drops of kumquat sauce, a cone of crispy bean curd jutting out of a cylinder containing black and white sesame seeds, and goodness what other dainty ingredients he was poised to add to the composition.

Why don’t you let your assistant do that for you, I asked, observing the delicate, careful movements he made with his silver chopsticks as he worked on each plate. He looked up, smiled, “Because it’s fun!”

Cooks and chefs and Chefs may talk about their dedication, their mission, their passion, but this superstar of Chinese cuisine has just tweaked the formula by including something that is so obviously a part of his personality:

the joy of cooking and creating dishes! One could almost hear him singing to his creations as he went over each prettily “painted” plate.

What makes him different? He’s 46, married to a noncook, and they have two children. His company, Concepts, covers a world of businesses and collaborations – a food factory producing spices and condiments (among other enticing stuff), restaurants in New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, contracts with seven hotels, a German company for Leung-designed knives, pots and pans, the list goes on.

We met Jereme days after his collaborator, Conrad Manila, filled its China Blue restaurant with 200 guests who paid $150 for a one-night-only, seven-course “gastronomic banquet.” As it would have been impossible for nosey journalists to talk to Chef Leung during the process of whipping up a meal for a small army of diners, Conrad GM Harald Feurstein, who happens to be an old China hand, thought it wise to share the experience post-event – repeat the same menu in a different environment (lunch, on a working day, casual dress code).

If I had been one of the 200, I wouldn’t have been able to elicit this statement from him: “The taste is Chinese but we try to make Chinese food beautiful, give it finesse. Compare it with a traditional woman who wears no makeup and is lacking in sophistication. The moment you dress her up, she looks refined, beautiful!” (Jullie Y. Daza)