When The Demon Chef wants to talk diabetes, you sit down and listen. Chef Alvin Leung and I met at Botanist Restaurant over a steaming bowl of steel-cut oats, dried fruits, fresh blueberries, and almond milk.
Chef Leung was casual in his signature head-to-toe black topped by a bespoke Play No More Korea bomber and a pair of glittery Louboutin high-tops.
Our early morning meet-up was to focus on Diabetes Awareness Month and Chef Leung’s personal journey with the disease. Six years ago, while at his home in Hong Kong, he experienced symptoms of what he believed to be a stroke – dry mouth and numbness in his limbs. He had been feeling tired previously and just not at his best, but nothing that would alert him to the severity of his Type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
Although Chef Leung manages to juggle a heavy work load which includes shooting the MasterChef Canada series in Toronto, a three-Michelin starred restaurant Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, and his family which includes nine Chihuahuas – he also manages to fit in an hour of squash per day. When asked why such devotion to squash, he explains the hour of cardio helps lower his blood sugar naturally, which is very important in staying healthy.
Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease which is exacerbated by our passion for fast food, sugar, and inactivity. Chef Leung peppers conversation with stats about its prevalence in not only his industry but also with athletes, and that 11 million Canadians have diabetes, which is one-in-four. The numbers are staggering and Diabetes Canada has been raising the alarm about the direct connection between the consumption of sugary beverages and excess sugar, and weight gain, which are high risk factors.
To control his diabetes, Chef Leung has stopped pricking his finger five times a day and has opted for Abbott’s FreeStyle Libre system. Consisting of a disposable sensor which is attached to the upper arm and a reader, which looks like high-tech pager, Chef Leung taps the reader against the sensor and his ‘number’ is digitally displayed.
As he shares the ease of use of the device he says: “It is very easy to apply and it is pre-calibrated in the factory. It is really simple to use which is good because nowadays nobody reads the instructions. I know, because I am lazy and don’t read instructions!”
The technology works similar to that of an Apple Watch or FitBit. The readings can be accessed and downloaded for analysis by the wearer and/or physician. Wearers can ‘test their blood’ as many times as day as they wish and can see the direct results of exercise and eating sugars and starches, such as pasta, rice, and potatoes, and adjust accordingly.
With a request for a box of bran flakes for his next appointment – cooking up a healthy sweet and sour dish with Keri Adams at CTV Morning Live – Chef Leung takes his last spoonful of oats and suggests a few quick photos before heading out. Twenty minutes later he is live! Diabetes is definitely not slowing down him down.
Watch for Chef Leung’s new self-published cookbook My Hong Kong to be on the shelves of bookstores in Hong Kong in the new year and for reality television fans, the newest season of Masterchef Canada airs on CTV in the spring.