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September 10, 2015 Calgary Zoo

ILLUMINASIA: Meet John Leung

The very first ILLUMINASIA Lantern & Garden Festival presented by Sinopec Canada starts on September 17- Are you ready!?

If you’ve read our ‘how-to’ guide for the festival, you know that it is broken up into three sections by country, each lasting for two weeks. China is featured from September 17 – 27, and will be celebrated through the lantern display, performances, and incredible programming.

Highlights include a gardening class that teaches how to steep the perfect pot of green tea, and a creative cooking class on September 18. You can learn to create Chinese dishes and noodles under the guidance of Chef John Leung, MasterChef Canada contestant, with a special chopstick demonstration!

Not sure if you want to venture into Chinese cooking? Listen to Chef Leung himself, who had this to say:

“Hi everyone! My name is John Leung, and if you watched the first season of MasterChef Canada, you may remember the red capped, blue jacketed man jumping with joy after winning a white apron from three of Canada’s top culinary minds. I may not have come away with victory in the end, but as I walked away from the kitchen that day, I took another step on my culinary journey to bring Chinese and southeast Asian flavours to the forefront.

Since that fateful day almost two years ago, I’ve had the amazing honour and privilege of working at some of Calgary’s best restaurants, working with amazing chefs, meeting amazing like-minded individuals, and learning from some of the best in the industry.

It hasn’t been an easy journey (but then again, what is?) but it’s been an amazing ride. But of course many of you may ask, “why aren’t you working at a Chinese restaurant?” While that would be the logical path to take, my belief and philosophy is that Chinese (and southeast Asian) cuisine is much more than what we see from the take out boxes. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of sweet and sour pork here and there, but I believe it is high time we moved beyond that.

Chinese cuisine is rooted in over 5,000 years of history, and eight great “traditions” from various provinces across China such as Sichuan and Guangdong. That ma-po tofu you may have enjoyed before? A staple of Sichuan. The sweet & sour pork and the beef & broccoli? A basic from the Cantonese cookbook. But there is so much more beyond that, especially from minor “traditions” from the other provinces. Think hand pulled noodles paired with cumin spiced lamb from Lanzhou in northwestern China, or “white cooked” Wenchang chicken (from which Southeast Asia’s infamous Hainanese chicken rice was derived) from Guangxi. It’s an iceberg that we have barely scratched the surface of!

But while there are many dishes that many outside of China have yet to hear of (let alone try), there is also time and space for innovation as well.

Take my home cuisine, Cantonese, for example. It is easily one of the most treasured of the eight great traditions, having been shaped by many outside influences such as Britain, India, France and even Japan. In turn, it has inspired chefs around the world with its flexibility, adaptability and openness for innovation, while still staying true to its heart and soul. Even other traditions are starting to pick up on this, and as a collective, bringing Chinese cuisine into the 21st century.

This spirit has taught me a philosophy that I like to follow in my cooking: respect the soul of the dish, while introducing new techniques, ingredients and flavours that work well with one another.

The dishes that I will be showing you respect those principles as well, and it’s my hope that afterward, you will see what I mean as well, and also gain a new appreciation for Chinese cuisine that’s out of the box.
I look forward to seeing you soon!”

John Leung

Learn more about the ILLUMINASIA programming here, and purchase your tickets online!

Photo credit: Top left, Mikaela MacKenzie, top right, CTV.

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