2017 / 9月
文‧蘇俐穎 圖‧莊坤儒 翻譯‧Phil Newell
曾在Rialto Cucina Italiana、De Loin Restaurant等老字號西餐廳待過的程翔珈，與在餐廳外場工作的妻子陳淳珍，一同回到桃園，整修家宅開了樂福利。在這個暖調的小館子，主廚為我們端出一道紹興酒乾瑤柱鮮蝦細扁麵，其中運用3種基醬，除了較常見的法式蝦醬與雞高湯，另將乾瑤柱浸泡在紹興酒中一夜後，取出蒸熟撥絲，再重新浸入，成為整道菜中最主要的一條味覺線。
2016年10月，從南投移師台中的Hero Restaurant，加入了蕭淳元在高雄餐旅大學就讀時的同窗林凱維，成為雙主廚制，整個團隊更加完整。無獨有偶，由中餐科班出身的兩人，從大學就確定了未來要走向融合菜的方向。蕭淳元經歷宜蘭渡小月、L’atelier de Joël Robuchon、日本寶格麗餐廳、小笠原伯爵官邸等餐廳的洗禮；林凱維則在畢業後前往法國博庫斯廚藝學校（Institut Paul Bocuse）精進，早先在中山招待所擔任主廚時便已受到矚目，「中山招待所時需要用高級食材去呈現，沒有強調在地食材，但有些菜藏著中餐的味道在裡面。」林凱維補充道：「現在的狀態更像是完全體。」
Hero Restaurant在南投等地還有專屬菜園，整個團隊都會參與耕種、收成。阿仙特別提到蕭淳元欣賞的兩位外國主廚：法國星籍主廚Michel Bras，以及被米高樂（Gault Millau）評鑑為「北陸最佳主廚」的谷口英司。立足日本富山，L’évo的靈魂人物主廚谷口英司提出「前衛的地方料理」這個詞，與Hero Restaurant致力的方向若合符節，谷口英司由法國菜出發，結合富山當地物產，並且與在地工藝家合作，創作出脫俗的地方性菜餚。
而2.0版的Hero Restaurant，歷經創業初期的摸索，以及多場餐會的洗鍊，加上資源的提升，完整度上都已更朝蕭淳元心中的理想邁進。當日甜品英雄豐仁冰中，穿插在雞蛋冰淇淋、酸梅湯冰沙、西谷米之間的，還有一顆木杉葡萄，這是來自同樣立足中部的威石東酒莊提供的台灣釀酒葡萄，據聞是本年度收穫季的最後一串；另外，使用南投陶藝家林永勝的陶器，以Hero Restaurant的小規模，恰好可以更有機、緊密地連結地方上的美好。
Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Phil Newell
In recent years a number of young chefs—perhaps on returning from overseas or after comprehensive training in a high-class restaurant—have independently made the same decision: to open a fusion-style restaurant. They use the cooking techniques of Western cuisine, but their flavor concepts draw on the tastes of their homeland. In this movement to develop Taiwanese takes on Western cuisine, there are hidden questions that chefs cannot avoid: Who am I? Where do I come from? Where do I want to go?
Ascend, owner of the Kopi Ibrik coffee shop, which opened just this year, says: “In the past, if you mentioned Turkish coffee, no one would think it had anything to do with specialty coffee. But now people have started using the language of specialty coffee to talk about Turkish coffee, and to explore such things as its extraction yield, the types of coffee beans used and their places of production, so it is beginning to draw the attention of coffee aficionados.”
The same logic applies in the culinary world. Food and beverages have developed to a point where Western cuisine is a generally recognized international language. But at this point, led by Nordic cuisine, there is a trend toward local style and seasonal cooking. Chefs around the world are drawing on their own cultural DNA and flavor experiences, and using local ingredients to express these within the format of Western cuisine. This enables diners to directly experience local cooking through their own senses, and from there to understand the source of a particular cuisine, without having to draw on outside knowledge.
Innovative dishes with logic and foundations
Today there is a group of rigorously trained chefs who are experimenting with adding Taiwanese or Chinese elements to French cooking, or with creating Western-style foods that meet the dietary habits of Taiwanese. The “creative cuisine” that was popular for a while in the past cannot compare in terms of presentation, combination of flavors, elegance, or completeness, says Ascend. “I categorize these innovative dishes as ‘Taiwanese-style Western cuisine.’”
But what is the biggest difference between such “innovative dishes” and “creative cuisine”?
“The difference is in the ‘foundation,’” says Ascend. In the world of professional cooking, there are no shortcuts, only repeated practice and experimentation, so that a person can build a solid foundation that has stood the test of time. Only then can you add things in a logical, grounded way; otherwise you are just acting blindly.
You will only do this if you miss home
Besides the Hero Restaurant, which opened in December of 2013 and launched this wave of fusion cuisine, Ascend also mentions other representative restaurants, including Akame and Lovely Casual Dining Room. Independently, they have decided not to set up in Taipei, on the front lines of high-end restaurants. He says: “Maybe people do this because they miss home.” These chefs have been through rigorous training, but they have decided, like a school of migrating fish, to leave the noisy city and return to their hometowns to open restaurants that are entirely their own, in order to fully express their personal characters and depth.
Nicola Cheng worked in established Western restaurants like Rialto Cucina Italiana and De Loin Restaurant, while his wife Joelle Chen worked on the service side at De Loin. Together they moved back to Taoyuan and remodeled the family home into the Lovely Casual Dining Room. In this warm little space, the chef prepared for us a dish of dried scallops and fresh shrimp, prepared with Shaoxing wine, on linguine. In it he used three basic sauces. Besides the not-uncommon French-style shrimp sauce and chicken broth, he marinated the dried scallops in the Shaoxing wine overnight, removed them to steam and shred them, then marinated them again, which provided the main strand of flavor running through the dish.
Joelle Chen is especially fond of old things, so Lovely’s foods are mostly served on tableware passed down in her family, or on antique plates. The meal wraps up with Taiwanese tea, served using a tea set passed down from Chen’s grandfather. Taking inspiration from Western herbal teas, guests are welcome to add rose petals, chamomile, and mint. The wafting herbal fragrances add a great deal of pleasure to the meal.
Why use the concepts of Chinese-style cuisine? Nicola Cheng responds: “Because I like Chinese food.” Gentle memories of his mother’s signature dishes have become the hidden stream underlying his meals.
Seeking oneness with nature
When the Hero Restaurant moved to Taichung from Nantou in October of 2016, Hsiao Tsun-yuan, the original owner and chef, brought in Lin Kai-wei, who had been a classmate of his in the Department of Chinese Culinary Arts at National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism, to create a dual head chef system, making the whole team more complete. The two had both decided even in university that in the future they would go in the direction of fusion dishes. Hsiao has been through a baptism of restaurants including Du Xiao Yue Taiwan Seafood Cuisine in Yilan, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei, and the Bulgari restaurant in Tokyo. Lin, on the other hand, after graduation went to the Institut Paul Bocuse in France for advanced training. Even early on in his career, when he was head chef at the Yet-sen Mansion restaurant in Taichung, he was attracting attention. “When I was at Yet-sen, you had to use high-grade materials to show your stuff. There was no emphasis on local ingredients, but some dishes had a Chinese flavor to them.” Lin adds: “Today it’s more comprehensive.”
Of the seasonal dishes at Hero, the one that really catches Ascend’s attention is one made with local prawn, Yunlin white asparagus, wild mullet roe, and lily bulb purée. The basic idea comes from the Chinese dish of lily bulb, asparagus, and shrimp, but unlike in the traditional dish, where all the flavors are blended together, Western cuisine is particular about preparing ingredients separately, and respecting the flavors of the ingredients themselves. Allowing all kinds of textures and characters to mix in the mouth makes the entire dish carry a message of freshness and richness.
The Hero Restaurant has its own vegetable farms in Nantou and elsewhere, and the whole team participates in the planting and harvesting. Ascend makes a point of mentioning the two foreign chefs so much appreciated by Hsiao Tsun-yuan: the Frenchman Michel Bras and the Japanese Eiji Taniguchi, head chef at L’Évo in Toyama, Japan. Taniguchi started out from French cuisine, but combined it with local ingredients from Toyama and worked with local handicraft artists, to create refined local dishes.
Version 2.0 of the Hero Restaurant has felt its way through the initial teething troubles that any new business faces, and has passed the test of several large dining events. With the upgrade in its resources, things have moved much closer to the ideal that is in Hsiao Tsun-yuan’s mind. For example, the dessert on the day of our visit was ice cream topped with Musann Blanc grapes. These are wine grapes from the Weightstone vineyard and winery, which is also based in central Taiwan. We later heard that they came from the last bunch of this year’s harvest. In addition, Hero uses ceramics made by Nantou ceramicist Lin Yongsheng.
What about the core dishes? Ascend gives the following evaluation: “Compared to the past, the flavors are much more rounded.” He also points especially to the last item on the menu: minced pork on rice. “In the past they had starches like Italian pasta and risotto as main courses, but now they serve the rice last, in order to place more emphasis on the fish and meat ingredients. This is more like the Japanese format.”
Anticipating a culinary peak in five years
The climate for contemporary downhome Taiwanese cuisine is gradually taking shape. In these best and worst of times, some chefs are focusing their attention on injecting Taiwanese flavor into haute cuisine, while others are pursuing the role of short-term guest chefs. But culinary professionals should look inward and realize: only with true motivation for doing this can you go far. “After waiting through this transitional period, everyone will be clearer about what they are doing and what they want to do,” says Ascend.
In this stage when things are still evolving, the main challenges for Taiwan chefs today are how to blend the strong points of Chinese and Western cuisines, give form to their own style, and incorporate their own stories into their food.
“This is a period when it is worth pondering what we are doing. When this period passes, there will be something amazing, something that transcends Western cuisine.” Five or ten years from now, what heights will this group of Taiwanese chefs have reached? We wait with bated breath.