He may have grown up in a family of chefs, but Wilson Leung, the new Executive Chef at Hue, hadn’t always planned to be a chef himself. Despite spending a lot of time in kitchens, he tried his hand at photography before eventually going back to his roots in the culinary arts.
Since then, Leung’s worked in some of Melbourne’s most acclaimed kitchens, including Circa and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. In 2019, he seized the opportunity to join the team at Hong Kong’s Michelin-starred Belon. Now, he’s bringing his modern Australian cooking and experiences in Hong Kong to delicious new menus at Hue, where ingredients and creative pairings take centrestage.
How did you get into food and cooking?
I come from a family of chefs—my father, uncles, and grandfather are all cooks—and I grew up in kitchens. I’d helped my family with their takeaway business since I was 14, and following a failed stint in professional photography, I decided that cooking could work for me too.
After finishing high school, we set our preferences for what we wanted to do. Photography was my first preference, and cooking was my last—a backup option. The cooking school, William Angliss Institute, was the most prominent hospitality training college in Australia. They interviewed me first, and I was attracted to the kitchen, the uniforms, the hierarchy and the professionalism.
What training did you do to become a chef?
I spent the next two years studying and training full-time at the college. We learnt all the basics, were examined, and had some great mentors and teachers. I had the opportunity to learn sous vide cooking and food safety from an old Austrian chef. The training and certification sets you up with the basic skills you need to start in the industry. It was certainly one of the essential certificates when applying for a work visa in Hong Kong.
What do you think are the most important attributes for a chef?
Repetition. You need to enjoy doing the same thing repeatedly while trying to improve and be faster
every day. Curiosity, is also important because you need to be inquisitive about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. To constantly learn is to question things and innovate.
Finally, I’d say resilience is important. This is a physically and mentally demanding job. You get knocked down a lot, but you need to keep getting up every morning and push on.
What is your process for creating a dish?
I usually start by picking a main ingredient, something that most people enjoy eating and isn’t too left field. Then, I build the elements around the dish—two types of vegetables often works as it creates balance—and think of nuts, herbs, leaves or secondary meat choices like tongue, sweetbreads or black pudding. I believe it’s vital to educate diners by putting a little something on the plate which they might not usually see or eat. For example, we take the pork belly, pair it with fennel and turnips, and then have a small slice of fried black pudding on the side. This is one of my favorite main courses.
What are your favourite ingredients to work with?
I’m trying to eat less meat these days and I enjoy working with vegetables. They’re natural, beautiful, take time, show the passion of the farmer or grower, and are super healthy to eat. Two of my favorites here in Hong Kong are celtuce and Chinese Celery.
Celtuce supposed to be a cross between celery and lettuce. The inside is crystal green and it
tastes delicious blanched. Chinese Celery reminds me of lovage and has a strong anise flavor and is grassy like parsley. It’s bright, strong, and very different from regular celery, which canalso be very special and has its place on my menus.
What do you consider to be the standout moments of your career?
Winning two chef hats at Circa the Prince in 2015 [Hats are like Michelin stars in Australia]. The restaurant had been stuck on one hat for a long time and then under the new head chef, Ash Hicks, who taught me a lot about modern Australian cooking, we brought it back up to two hats.
Another moment was working my way through the ranks at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. It’s a bustling and
challenging restaurant to work at and being trusted with complex preparations and earning the respect
of my mentors across four years there meant a lot.
Finally, becoming the fourth-best restaurant in Asia at Belon with Daniel Calvert in 2020 was another important moment. It was a turbulent year for the hospitality industry—and Daniel’s last year in Hong Kong— and we, the team and Daniel, achieved everything possible out of that tiny kitchen on Elgin Street.
Until now, you’ve spent your career as a chef in Australia. How has this influenced your culinary ethos?
Growing up in a culturally diverse city like Melbourne, Australia, has hugely influenced my culinary identity. Simple things like prawn crackers, potato gnocchi, avocado and dukkah came with the influx of immigrants that makes up the Australian identity and what we grew up eating and what is popular Down Under today. We’re always open to people who bring their culture with them, and new ingredients and trends. Being Australian, we are ever adaptable.
What does “Modern Australian” cuisine mean to you?
A modern approach to meat and two vegetables is what many Australians grew up eating. It’s also pretty much inspired by the multicultural make-up of the land Down Under, with flavors and influences from four corners of the world—it means not being stuck to one cooking style. It’s being open to everything, combining things appropriately, seeing what works, and creating tasty food.
How did you create your new menu at Hue? How is it different from what the restaurant offered before?
My menu is a collection of things that I’ve picked up along my culinary career and things I’ve seen and
eaten in Australia and Hong Kong. It’s got a variety of dishes with meats, fish, and vegetables so I hope there’s
something on offer for everyone.
I’ve lived in Hong Kong for two years now, so there are things that I see here, like burrata and steak tartare, and some things that I don’t, like poached eggs and lambribs, which I think would be a great addition to this city. The food was more casual before, and we hope to stand on the shoulders of the previous Executive Chef, Anthony, who was a great chef. His food was his love letter to Australia. My food is to cook for the people of Hong Kong with what I know, in a western way, while adapting to what they like to eat and maybe educating them a little. I hope to put grass-fed beef on the menu one day.
What do you want diners to take away from their experiences at Hue?
I hope diners leave with a good impression of what Australian cooking is about, maybe eat something in a non-classical way or that they’ve not seen before, or taste something new. I hope they roll out happily on a full tummy and with a positive experience as it’s a tough time for the industry right now with staff and skills shortages.
What’s next at Hue?
Christmas and then New Year’s menus with a lot of festive touches, and a lot of hard work.
- Dishin' the Dirt
- Wilson Leung