Six years ago, Michelin-star restaurant owner and MasterChef Canada judge Alvin Leung felt dryness in his mouth and numbness in his limbs. The symptoms were so bad he thought he was having a stroke.
The Scarborough, Toronto-raised chef visited a diabetes doctor who ran blood tests on him, and eventually diagnosed him with Type 2 diabetes—a disease that is, unfortunately, familiar to him.
“I grew up in a family that was aware of the consequences of diabetes,” Leung explained to the Straight in an interview at a downtown Vancouver office building. “My grandmother and father both had diabetes.”
According to a Diabetes Canada news release, diabetes is a silent epidemic in Canada with 11 million people living with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
The Hong Kong chef is now the spokesperson for a new type of device that can monitor an individual’s glucose levels—wearable technology known as the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring system.
“There are a lot of athletes and chefs with diabetes. One in four people in Canada have diabetes, and I would say probably more than one in four chefs have it, but you learn to live with [diabetes],” said Leung. “The most important thing is to control your blood sugar and monitor it with proper dieting and good timings for meals. I do that right now with the FreeStyle Libre.”
This system consists of a disposable sensor ($89 for a replacement every two weeks) worn on the back of the upper arm (for up to 14 days), and a reader ($50) that scans the sensor for an accurate glucose-level reading.
“If you test your blood sugar the old way, you would have to cut yourself five times,” explained Leung. “Especially if you are working with food, you don’t want to have any open wounds.”
Self-proclaimed as the “Demon Chef” for his cooking style known as “X-Treme Chinese” (which he serves at his three-Michelin star restaurant Bo Innovation in Hong Kong), Leung has acknowledged the need for diabetic-friendly dishes at his restaurants.
“I have developed recipes that are diabetes-friendly for my restaurant menus. I’m trying to make food slightly healthier, but that’s a trend,” Leungsaid. “If you’re diabetic, I will have options for you. It won’t be available at all my restaurants, but eventually I will make it available at all of them.”
Besides visiting Vancouver at the end of November to promote Diabetes Awareness Month, the charismatic chef was also scouting a location to open up a new restaurant in the city.
“There’s a great vibe in Vancouver, and there’s a market,” said Leung. “If there’s a market, then there’s an opportunity.”
Leung runs several restaurants around the globe, including in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Toronto.