My memories inspire my cuisine: Taiwanese chef Lanshu Chen

Lanshu Chen, chef of Le Mout restaurant in Taiwan, has been named Veuve Clicquot Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2014. The prestigious award is part of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants programme

What role did food play in your life while growing up in Taiwan?
I grew up in a big family and all my aunts are great cooks, experts in traditional Taiwanese and Chinese cuisine. I began cooking Taiwanese and Chinese dishes at the age of 11. I remember the first dish I cooked — a very traditional Taiwan dish, scrambled eggs with leek and fermented turnip. In high school, I fell in love with pastry. I enjoyed my desserts with friends and family at afternoon tea.

Lanshu Chen began cooking Taiwanese and Chinese dishes at the age of 11. Her cooking philosophy for Le Moût is about finding the harmony between flavours and textures

After having studied at Le Cordon Bleu and ESCF-Ferrandi, what was the philosophy behind setting up Le Moût in Taiwan?
When I returned to Taiwan and visited the French restaurants, they didn’t match my expectations and perceptions of authentic French cuisine. I wanted to introduce my version of French cuisine but add my own interpretation. Essentially, I wanted to serve the best French cuisine to diners in Taiwan.

Kampachi, Avocado and Green Chilli Peppers

How do you combine French and Asian cuisines?
My cooking philosophy for Le Mout is all about finding the harmony between flavours and textures. French cuisine, besides the food itself, is more about a mix of culture, thinking, and emotion. That is what I experienced when I lived in Paris. People appreciate all of the finer details. 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. I’m inspired by everything that surrounds me — street food, fine dining, Taiwanese and Western cuisines. Sometimes it is just a memory that sparks the creative spirit. I always carry a small notebook and write down what comes to mind. It may be just some irrelevant descriptions of feelings about textures and flavours. It's like a puzzle, and sooner or later I will find the essential piece that transfers the concept to a dish. When luxury products from around the world meet local 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 North-Eastern 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 Mout. With classic French, touches, I create my own ‘Haute Cuisine’ by fusing local produce with luxury ingredients from all over the world.

What’s the food and restaurant scene in Taiwan like?
In Taiwan, we are very proud of the high-quality produce and the local cuisine. The cooking styles and flavours are close to Chinese cuisine. But it is more about street food, home cooking, so it’s a cuisine full of emotion, it reflects our culture and evokes childhood memories. That’s why it would be so special and distinctive. Regarding food trends in Taiwan, I believe it will eventually return to our origins. But I hope if there is any trend, it should be authentic and reflects our culture. It shouldn’t simply mimic what is trendy around the world.

What are you currently experimenting with and to what effect?
I have begun applying traditional Chinese or Taiwanese cooking methods to interpret European produce. For example, I ferment the mustard leaves and sun-dry them as in traditional Hakka cuisine and I use it to wrap the pigeon and truffled pearl barley. Or in another dish, I cure the pork ear, cheek meat and the tongue to make a terrine with both Chinese and French styles, and make it accompany it with a chrysanthemum mayonnaise and Vinjaune jelly.

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