When Kelvin Cheung hung the apron at his wildly popular Mumbai restaurant and celeb den, Bastian, everyone asked, what’s next? The months that followed were rife with tittle-tattle. And only a few weeks into Cheung’s three-month-long sabbatical, news about him being involved with a venture in Delhi was already making the rounds. Come 2020, and those rumours were put to rest – Cheung had joined hands with White Panda Hospitality for a spanking new Asian diner called Kiko-Bā, which is all set to open its doors to public in end February in the posh south Delhi neighbourhood of Vasant Kunj.
In a way, Kiko-Bā is the manifestation of Cheung’s homecoming – a return to his Chinese ancestry. It is also, in equal part, representative of his learning curve, the story of his discoveries as a chef here in India and his observations of the food scene in Toronto and LA, where he spent his sabbatical.
“Exploring new restaurants, whether I am visiting a place or living in one, is something that I do out of habit because I enjoy it. One of the big shifts that I noticed this time was that back in the US and Canada, people have become more aware of what they want because they have access to a lot of information. So, restaurants too are coming up with more familiar food. Also, the gap between the industry in India and in western countries is shortening, with Indian restaurants creating their own trends,” he shares.
These learnings will find its way into Kiko-Bā, at the heart of which lies the idea of serving Asian cuisine – a widely accepted cuisine in this country – but not in the ‘Chindian’ avatar available at most eateries here. “The idea was to provide what the market demanded, but a more updated version of it. I wanted to weave in my evolution as a chef into the food, so the menu is a culmination of what I learnt in my father’s restaurants, at culinary school and the restaurants that I have worked at, across the world, be it Vancouver or Mumbai,” he explains.
Cheung’s evolution finds expression in carefully plated and nuanced dishes celebrating authentic Chinese flavours. These include delicacies like a piquant pomelo salad, a gorgeous and colourful portion of hamachi chilli olive oil, imported hotate scallops with corn yuzu kosha, Korean fried chicken and prawn chicken wonton in a chilli vinegar demi-glace. “Most of these dishes are remnants of the recipes that my parents and grandmother used. For example, with the tomato sauce, instead of using the classic recipe, I have taken inspiration from the Singapore curry that my mom used to make on Sundays, and accentuated it,” he elaborates, digging into his memories, and their expression on his menu at Kiko-Bā.
Kiko- Bā comes at a time when the restaurant industry is abuzz with a dialogue on the comeback of Chinese cuisine evident in the springing up of bunch of new Cantonese-forward and pan-Asian restaurants across India. Be it places like Hotel Shanghigh and Chin Chin Chu in Mumbai or Kimono Club, Plats, Miss Nora and Yi Jing in Delhi. “I haven't been in Delhi long enough to be able to comment on the Asian food scene. But what I have seen so far is that people have stopped using labels like ‘authentic’ and ‘fusion’ which I am thrilled about. Food is just food,” he says.
Be that as it may, this a huge departure from what Cheung was best known for during his stint at Bastian – fresh, healthy comfort food along with lip-smacking seafood dishes. And it is hard to tell why he left.
Bastian was an oddly-located, easy to miss restaurant, that opened in Bandra West in 2016. It rose to fame rapidly: Mumbai’s paparazzi was perennially at its doorstep, and Bollywood celebs, be it Tiger Shroff or Kriti Sanon, were quite literally eating out of Cheung’s hands. The food was thoroughly praised by all. In fact, in March 2019, film star Shilpa Shetty Kundra announced that she had entered into a joint venture with the company that owned the restaurant, Aallia Hospitality.
Everything seemed hunky dory, and then, on July 30 last year, the hospitality group issued a press release announcing that after much deliberation, the internal board had decided to relieve Cheung. This was odd, and hardly common – in most cases, if a well-known chef was quitting, owners would choose to keep the news under wraps. But then, Cheung wasn’t just a chef, he was a brand in his own right. What actually happened, we will never know. But ask Cheung and he’ll simply tell you that it was time to move on.
“After Bodhi [Kelvin’s 1.8 months-old toddler] was born, my wife and I realised that family was of utmost importance and that every decision that we were going to take henceforth had to be one that was beneficial for us as a unit,” Cheung says, adding that Delhi is a better city for a child, considering it had a slower pace of life and basic things like open spaces and parks.
If you have been following Cheung on social media, you will see that parenting forms a large part of his life today and his uber cute posts talking about what his child did or ate (he even has a hashtag for the food his son eats called #bodhibites) are a testament to that.
It is natural then, that this has come to govern his food philosophy, too. “A lot of us don’t realise this while growing up until we have a kid of our own. Parents spend a lot of time trying to expose their kids to different flavours and textures. With Bodhi in our lives, it has become like a rule in the house to eat more carefully, whether its cutting out processed foods or shifting to organic produce,” he shares explaining how being a father has helped him learn new things about food each day while ensuring what his child eats is nutritious.
With so many influences – from his culinary journey to ancestry to becoming a parent – shaping the food at Kiko-Bā-- it is sure to be something worth your time, and we can’t wait to see how Delhi warms up to Cheung and his new endeavour.