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In just a few hours the 2014 Asia's 50 Best Restaurants will be revealed: the list will be announced this evening at Capella Singapore, during the event - sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna - that awards the best restaurants and chefs across Asia. As was done last year, the Lifetime Achievement and Best Female Chef Awards have been assigned in advance: Chinese chef Ivan Li, from the Family Li Imperial Cuisine was named 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, while Lanshu Chen has been picked as Asia's Best Female chef.
Fine Dining Lovers had the opportunity to chat with Chen, a Taiwanese-born who received classical food training in France at the Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts and a pastry diploma at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before moving on to work with industry heavyweights such as Pierre Hermé and Thomas Keller. Chen began working at Le Moût in 2008 exploring her own unique take on French cuisine that's rooted firmly in her home country of Taiwan.
How does it feel to be voted Asia's Best Female chef?
As a chef who strives for perfection, I am truly thrilled to receive the Veuve Clicquot Asia’s Best Female Chef award from Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. Growing up in Taiwan, food has always been an integral part of my heritage. From an early age I appreciated the pleasures that derive from preparing and sharing meals. It is a great privilege to have my work recognised by the respected industry experts who make up the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. It is also a tremendous encouragement for our team and their uncompromising standards and dedication.
Can you explain your approach to cuisine at the restaurant?
With classic French touches, I create my own "Haute Cuisine" by fusing local produce with ingredients from all over the world: when luxury products from around the world meet Taiwan delicacies, there is an instant spark. Whether it’s the freshly delivered Silkie Hen’s egg, sweet baby carrot from Nanto’s organic farm, freshly plucked Angelica sprouts, line-caught Wild Amadai from Taiwan's Northeastern coastline, black truffle from Perigord, the far flung Beluga caviar, or the buttery Wagyu beef... It is a sensational combination that belongs to Taiwan and only indulges at Le Moût. My cooking philosophy is all about finding the enjoyable balance – or harmony – among flavours and textures. Balance is always the key, balance to the dish itself: including visual presentation, flavours, textures. French cuisine, besides the food itself, is more a about a mix of culture, thinking, and emotion. So it is not just about dishes, but a dining process. That is what I experienced when I lived in Paris.
What dish are you most proud of creating or that best represents your cuisine?
I am proud of all dishes created, but it is difficult for me to determine which one is the best. I think it needs to be identified by our guests and it takes time, considering Le Mout opened only five years ago it still at the beginning stage. I personally have some favorite creations that I keep it in my recipe book. The dishes such as the tasty Mangalica Pork Shoulder with a strong sauce made with Ardbeg Corryvreckan whisky and bacon, or we use traditional Taiwanese method to ferment the mustard leaf and use it to wrap the whole pigeon and truffled pearl barley. I love cooking vegetable and seafood dishes. There’s a large variety of vegetables and seafood in Taiwan, giving me a lot of opportunity to be creative. While meat is a good choice, the taste is comparatively stronger than fish and vegetables, which causes some limitations.
What are you currently researching in the kitchen?
Recently I was quite fascinated by the combination of ingredients and also the old cooking techniques inspired by Chinese cuisine. Chinese cuisine of course is very familiar to me, but I had been looking at it without paying too much attention to the details. In the past few months I started to know more about each variety of Chinese cuisine and realized it is so complicated and exciting. There are many theories in common between French cuisine and Chinese cuisine. But it sparkles when we review them together carefully.
Can you highlight some Taiwan ingredients or flavors you're using that 'Western gourmets' may not know?
There are many: like dried osmanthus, which is a small dried yellow flower with elegant fragrance, it's very easy to find in Chinese desserts but rare in the West. Or Chinese toon tree, of which we use the aromatic leaves to make very special pesto or sauce, tastes onion-like but more nutty and floral. We also ferment the leaves of mustard greens according to traditional Hakka way, it produces a very special smoky and floral aroma after drying it.
Taiwanese cuisine is not so well known in the West. What are some of the main defining characteristics of it when compared with cuisine from surrounding areas?
Taiwan cuisine is perceived globally as one of Chinese cuisine varieties. Indeed the cuisine here is fused with different Chinese cuisine origins due to political and historical background. But only going deeper will we find it full of the convivial charm of common life. That's why street food plays an important role in Taiwanese cuisine. It is not luxury as Cantonese which sometimes requires complicated techniques and extremely expensive ingredients. It is mainly presented as home cooking, very warm and hearty, in small dishes most of time.
How has the haute cuisine movement in Taiwan developed in recent years ?
Haute cuisine in Taiwan started in about 10 years ago or a little earlier but with only a couple of French restaurants promoting this idea. At that moment, Japanese cuisine in Taiwan is getting more mature and refined. In the past few years French Haute cuisine in Taiwan seemed to finally get its own position. More chefs coming back from abroad and are devoted to this field. The market is more familiar with world-known celebrity chefs and awards such as Michelin or World's 50 Best Restaurants. The positive impact is reflected in the quality of produce supply, not only in the imported ingredients but also in the local produce. The farmers and suppliers care more about quality and the uniqueness of their product now. Then this phenomenon helps uplift most of the restaurants in Taiwan to another level.
What developments would you like to see in the Taiwan dining scene over the next years?
I really expect to see people appreciate “real food,” know how to appreciate good cuisine and be open to different food cultures. It takes time to build the scene, but very exciting!
In recent months there has been a lot of debate about there not being enough female chefs in the industry, what do you think about this?
Maybe physical condition is one of the reasons discouraging women to work in the kitchen, and the social value to position a woman’s role will be another one. But with the change of social structure, the numbers of female chefs will certainly increase. As a cook, however, I think there should not be any gender issue in the kitchen. The chef, should be a neutral term. Thus there is no need to debate if there are enough female chefs.