JIMMY Lee is 40 years old but looks half that age. He’s slim, clear-skinned and bright-eyed. Is that because of his healthy Asian diet? “Ha, no,” he giggles over his jasmine tea. “I love cream cakes and scones with cream and jam. And only yesterday I had a Danish pastry. Last week I had fish and chips and recently I made myself a chicken rogan josh. I don’t have a fitness routine – running around the kitchen all day uses up enough energy.”

It’s fair to say Lee – aka Chia Fay Lee – is a child of his time. He was born and brought up in Glasgow after his father Kwai and mother Mui moved to Scotland from Hong Kong in the 1960s. With his two sisters in Hamilton, he attended local schools and ate school dinners with the rest of his classmates. As a student of accountancy at the University of Glasgow during the 1990s and into the noughties, haggis, fish and chips, kebabs and Indian takeaways were part of his teenage diet alongside his mother’s home-cooked Chinese food, which is lighter, contains lots of vegetables and very little wheat gluten. “I do eat bad things, but not all the time and it’s knowing how to keep the balance that makes the difference.”

All the same, the chef-patron of Lychee Oriental, Glasgow’s hippest Chinese restaurant, follows Asian tradition by having no butter, cream or milk on his modern Scottish-sourced menu. Native scallops, monkfish, halibut, sea bass and prawns are cooked with fresh mangetout, broccoli, mushrooms, ginger and oyster sauce; extra-matured rib-eye or sirloin beef is flash-cooked and served with a black pepper sauce that isn’t anything like the creamy, black-dotted one we know in the West; griddled beef fillet and king prawns come with a green pepper and black bean sauce.

“My customers love the stir-fried beef with asparagus in chilli garlic because they want Scottish and they see asparagus as being as Scottish as the beef,” he says. “The more adventurous like to try dishes like my chicken clay pot with Chinese sausage and cloud fungus [Chinese mushrooms] in a red curd sauce, and twice-cooked pork belly with aubergines in chilli bean sauce. If something doesn’t work I take it off, but there are always those who want to push the envelope.”

His father, also a self-taught chef, had Chinese restaurants in Dundee, Paisley and Hamilton, a takeaway in Torrance and finally, the I-Chai in Anniesland, Glasgow. He worked extremely hard for more than 30 years to build up the business with his wife before recently retiring “to kick about playing mahjong with the older guys who came here in the 1960s and founded Glasgow’s most famous Chinese restaurants such as Ho Wong and Amber Regent”. At 62 his father is hardly an old man, but Lee says spending all those years bent over a cooker that had been built for someone 5ft 5in tall when he was 6ft tall took its toll on him physically.

The young Lee learned from him. “I was in the restaurant every day from about age three or four, and the kitchen with all its nooks and crannies was my playground,” he recalls. They weren’t poor but running a Chinese restaurant in those days hardly made them rich. “I remember in primary seven my teacher said, ‘Hands up if you’ve got a washing machine,’ and I was the only person who didn’t. Then she went on to microwaves and televisions. I put my hand up because we did have a television, but then she said, ‘Ah, but who has three TVs?’ and I was crushed.”

Unlike his father, Lee adds new dishes to his menu every few months. “Dad’s menu would never change. He would only do things like sweet and sour chicken, crispy lemon chicken, traditional Chinese curry made with madras curry powder, and lots of dishes with black bean sauce. He always used green and red peppers, while I use pak choi, asparagus, Chinese leaves and a lot more tofu. And he’d never have dreamed of serving Scottish sirloin or rib-eye.

“Dad used to use clear water as a base for his sauces, whereas I brew a vegetable stock pot for five hours using spring onion, ginger, pak choi and so on. I use that stock broth as the base for all my sauces. Dad, on the other hand, simply added soy sauce, salt and rice wine to water. I’m trying to innovate and introduce customers to authentic Chinese vegetables and diverse flavours.”

All around the world, Asian cuisine is having a bit of a moment. Hong Kong itself has an increasing number of Michelin-starred restaurants, with 61 in the 2017 Guide, including the world’s first three-starred Chinese restaurant. Does Lee think traditional Chinese or Asian cuisine is in danger of losing its affordable mass appeal?

“Definitely not, as any Michelin-starred restaurants are doing authentic food and they’re not all mega expensive. I think the effect will be that more people eat out more frequently instead of just on special days. The eating-out scene in Hong Kong is amazing and they love their food. Houses and flats are so small that they go out to eat all the time. The dinner party scene doesn’t really exist there. It means restaurants are jostling for business and constantly upping the ante.

“Hong Kong menus won’t use dairy but the diet is definitely changing as more people aspire to being middle-class and they want more products to eat,” he says. “Ice-cream, cream and butter may be in addition to what they have because they can afford it.

“Milk used to be regarded as a premium product but it was UHT, not fresh, and you couldn’t buy a pint or two pints as it only came in little cartons. Now the Hong Kong mall has yogurt stalls and dairy places. And more bakeries are springing up. They love foreign food.”

Does he worry that obesity will become as common there as it is here? “Obesity is not such an issue but diabetes is, because of the high sugar intake,” he says. “It’s quite difficult to find Diet Coke in China. It’s much easier to get fully leaded 7-Up and Coke."

Back in Glasgow, meanwhile, Lee is on a mission to ignite, or reawaken, our appetite for modern, healthy, Asian food.

Like many offspring from the original pioneering generation of Chinese restaurateurs, his sisters chose not to follow their father into the business, preferring to study for a profession. They have careers in the civil service and in marketing, with one in Nigeria and the other in New Zealand. Lee's own three children, aged 10, 15 and 20, with his wife Maggie (Siu Oi Tseung), may or may not follow him into the business: his eldest is studying biochemistry at the University of Edinburgh.

“A lot of young Scots-Chinese don’t want to take on the family business and prefer to do their own thing. Our parents, like many others, encouraged us to go to university,” says Lee, who worked as an accountant with Standard Life for seven years before taking on I-Chai in Anniesland, Glasgow, from his father. “But in my heart I always knew I wanted to have my own business." Then, three years ago, a derelict building became available in an off-the-beaten-track site in the city centre and he took a chance on it.

In that short time, Lychee Oriental – a modern space with clean lines and subtle colours but with traditional touches – has been a resounding success and Lee has been talent spotted by the producers of BBC Two’s Great British Menu, where for the Scottish heats he created a D-Day pork dish, using risotto rice and a sauce to represent the Normandy beaches after the battle had ended. He's also appeared on STV’s Riverside Show and Julie and Jimmy’s Hot Woks, and Channel 4’s My Kitchen Rules, where he was a judge of unusual home-cooked Christmas dishes alongside food writer Prue Leith and the two-Michelin star chef Michael Caines. His next TV outing is as a judge in Channel 4’s Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas, with Kirstie Allsopp, next Wednesday.

"I was honoured to be judging Britain's best Christmas dinner. It was an amazing experience. Kirsty was a pleasure to work with," he says. "We had a great laugh filming and she is every bit as funny and astute as she appears on TV."

It’s looking like Jimmy Lee is on the cusp of TV chef celebrity. He says fame is unexpected but he will embrace it and not only because it helps raise the profile of his restaurant. “I will always try to champion modern Chinese cuisine with a Scottish twist, and from a Glaswegian viewpoint,” he says. “I took part in the Let’s Eat Glasgow food festival during the summer and served 700 dishes in one day, which was very encouraging. Being part of Glasgow’s young, progressive eating-out scene is an honour for me and I am very proud of that.”

Lychee Oriental, 59 Mitchell Street, Glasgow (lycheeoriental.co.uk)