How Taiwan's Best Female Chef Captured the World's Attention
At a time when the world’s eyes are trained on Taiwan, both for its reputation as a travel destination and for the plethora of dining options, Chef Lanshu Chen arrived at the UNICEF Children’s Ball as one of the most venerated figures in Taiwan's gastronomic arena. As Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2014, she was partly responsible for urging the fine dining scene in Taiwan to come out of its shell, guiding the industry to new heights with her celebrated Le Moût restaurant in Taichung, Taiwan.
From an early age, Chen was surrounded by relatives who loved food as ardently as she did; as a child, she would often lend a helping hand in the kitchen and visit the bookstore to pick out all the recipes herself. That passion and intuition would follow her all the way to Paris, where she earned a pastry diploma at Le Cordon Bleu and trained at École Grégoire-Ferrandi, honing her craft under acclaimed chefs such as Pierre Hermé and Thomas Keller. “Pastry is still my dream job, because I started in pastry,” she says proudly. “I love baking, I love making cakes and cookies. I’m quite comfortable when I’m in the pastry kitchen.”
Here, the French-trained chef talks about how she combines multiple culinary influences, the challenges of being a chef, and new developments in Taiwan’s dining landscape:
On combining French and Taiwanese cuisines:
“My restaurant looks very French and my cuisine is almost experimental, trying to bring in all the French techniques and elements. I work with a lot of local farmers. Almost all my staff are local chefs, and only very few of them started learning French cuisine when they were young; they started mostly from Chinese kitchens. The flavor profile I want to present is very Oriental, but not like American cuisine with single dimensions, it’s more like a Chinese way—a harmonious combination.
There’s a saying in Chinese that when five flavors—sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory—when all five are harmonized, hundreds of flavors are created. It’s something like this concept which brings out my style. [In Le Moût] we have very discreet fragrances and flavors, and you will feel the complexity when you taste our dishes.”
On the growth of Taiwan’s fine dining scene:
“When I started, there were not too many fine dining restaurants in Taiwan, so I tried to build my own restaurant. It’s a very exciting time for us now, because we have a lot of chefs coming back from France and other foreign countries, and they are bringing back a lot of techniques and new concepts—very international standards. Especially now in Taipei, there are a lot of different styles of restaurants and they are building really professional teams. It’s quite different from before, when it was restricted to hotels. But now, the professional kitchens are outside, in independent restaurants. It’s very nice, it’s very good to have this new generation coming up.”
On understanding the culture behind a cuisine:
“When people see new restaurants they are very excited, but they seldom try to understand the culture. It’s easy now for people to see me and my restaurant as an icon of French cuisine—we worked hard for eight years. But the problem for some new restaurants is that people criticize very easily, they don’t really get to know the culture or the background of the cuisine. It’s a pity, because there is so much effort put into these restaurants, and sometimes people just want to have something cheap, they’re trying to experience something in a very easy way. There are so many things to learn and appreciate in this industry. I think that’s a challenge for me, too, because when we’re promoting new pastries or new dishes, we need to educate.”
On her practical advice to female chefs:
You will be studied more. People will see you as a very special case and try to know how you work in the kitchen, how you work with your staff, how many difficulties you have had. Just work hard and you’ll know what’s the thing you really love. Once you’ve really committed, then you’ll know if you really like it.”