Two chefs explore history of rice in documentary

Leung is amazed at the agricultural techniques used in rice planting.

In a documentary to rediscover the culture and history of rice, celebrity chefs Alvin Leung and Eric Chong will take viewers across the padi fields of China, United Arab Emirates, Thailand and Malaysia to see how this staple food is produced and enjoyed.

Silk Road Delicacies: Rice Unearthed is a co-production between CJ ENM, a sister company of TvN Asia, and China Intercontinental Communication Centre (CICC) to promote China’s Belt and Road initiative.

It will be aired on Astro 4K UHD and TvN Asia starting on the first day of Chinese New Year.

Known simply by his moniker “demon chef”, Leung, who was born in London and raised in Ontario, Canada, is a well-known figure in Hong Kong’s culinary landscape.

Leung first made a name for himself with his flagship restaurant Bo Innovation, which has retained three Michelin stars since 2013. Leung has a share in Fuhu Restaurant and Bar under the Zouk Group at Resorts World Genting in Malaysia.

Chong, a Canadian, is the first winner of MasterChef Canada when Leung was a judge in 2014.

After his win, the duo went into a business partnership to open two restaurants in Toronto, specialising in East Asian cuisine.

The documentary will see the chefs making trips to the rural areas of the mentioned rice growing countries.

Chong says climbing to the top of rice terraces is a one-of-a-kind experience.Chong says climbing to the top of rice terraces is a one-of-a-kind experience.

At a press conference at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, the duo talked about their journeys.

“We had to climb to the top of the rice terraces. It was a one of a kind experience,” said Chong of the arduous treks with the film crew.

He also spoke of being mesmerised by the sand dunes in Dubai.

“I never thought sand could be so beautiful,” said Chong.

Leung expressed his amazement at the agricultural techniques used in rice planting.

“I was fascinated with the rice-fish system which integrates aquaculture and rice agriculture in China. To me, this symbiosis is like a perfect marriage,” said Leung.

Of the values they have learnt, both said they were inspired by people who had shown much pride and love in preserving the industry.

“The documentary is like a bowl of rice. Each grain has a story to tell,” said Leung.

In retracing the economic and social impact of a staple food that has nurtured more than half of the world’s population, the two chefs will have a cooking session at the end of each episode, giving their unique take on traditional rice dishes.

Chosen because of their Chinese descent but born and raised abroad, show producers are banking on Leung and Chong to give viewers a fresh perspective on an oft written subject.

That the duo had caught viewers’ attention when Chong was given a roasting by Leung for contradicting his judgment in an episode of MasterChef Canada, also adds an element of interest to the documentary.

But Chong insists there is no bad blood between them.

“I was always a little intimidated by Alvin, but he is a hard worker when in the kitchen. Out of the kitchen, he’s one of the nicest people I’ve met. I have so much respect for him and we have developed a good friendship,” said Chong.

Also launched with the documentary on rice was The Story of Time: China and Malaysia, an hour-long documentary on the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.

Present to share his personal account was former cabinet minister Tun Michael Chen, who was assigned by Malaysia’s second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein to establish diplomatic ties with China in the 1970s.

In his speech, Chen revealed that some 300,000 Chinese residents in Malaysia had dual citizenship then.

“Abdul Razak did not want to lose the 300,000 residents. After diplomatic ties were set up, dual citizenship was no longer recognised and we were able to retain the Chinese residents as our countrymen,” said Chen.

Also present at the conference were National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) board member Andrew Tai, Malaysian Investment Development Authority chairman Datuk Abdul Majid Ahmad Khan, Council of Malaysian Senators president Senator Datuk Seri Khairudin Samad and China embassy minister counsellor to Malaysia Chen Chen.

In his speech, Tai said collaborations between Chinese and local film companies over the years had amounted to an investment value of RM20mil to the industry.

To further encourage partnerships between domestic and foreign producers, Finas was offering 30% cash rebates to production expenditures under the Film In Malaysia Incentive programme.

The launch of Silk Road Delicacies: Rice Unearthed and premiere of The Story of Time: China and Malaysia was in conjunction with the 2020 China Film and TV Festival.

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