The queen of Taichungâ€™s fine-dining scene is being hailed as one of the regionâ€™s top chefsÂ â€”not that sheâ€™s had any time to notice
By Mavis Teo
I am having tea with Lanshu Chen outside Choux Choux, her brand-new patisserie in Taichung, when a passerby smiles at her. â€śDo I know him?â€ť she wonders out loud. She probably doesnâ€™t, but itâ€™s a good bet that he knows who she is. Recently anointed Asiaâ€™s Best Female Chef by the people behind the S. Pellegrino-sponsored Asiaâ€™s 50 Best Restaurants, Chen is Taiwanâ€™s culinary star of the moment, and Le MoĂ»t (59 St., Taichung, Taiwan; 886-4/2375-3002)Â her French dining room across the road, is the only restaurant in the country to have placed on this yearâ€™s 50 Best list. It doesnâ€™t hurt that the 33-year-old also happens to be beautiful and articulate.
Taichung, a pleasant, laid-back city some 140 kilometers southwest of Taipei, is Chenâ€™s hometown, and it was here that she returned after training at Parisâ€™s Ferrandi cooking school and cutting her teeth at such prestigious Parisian restaurants as Les Ambassadeurs and Relais dâ€™Auteuil (not to mention a stint at the French Laundry in Californiaâ€™s Napa Valley). In 2008 she opened Le MoĂ»t, where she deftly reinvents classic French dishes using local ingredients and cooking methods.
â€śI strive to create new tastes, to bring a classicism to flavors I tasted in my childhood,â€ť she tells me after my lunch at Le MoĂ»t, a handsome space appointed with rich upholstery and antique chandeliers. â€śThat whole process is very exciting for me, discovering how different tastes, smells, and textures will come together on the plate.â€ť
In a dish of pigeon stuffed with truffled pearl barley, for instance, Chen tones down the gaminess of the bird by wrapping it in mustard leaves fermented in the Chinese manner. I also try a layered pork terrine that channels a traditional Taiwanese dish of cured pork ears, tongue, and cheek, accompanied by chrysanthemum mayonnaise and vin jaune jelly.
Le MoĂ»tâ€™s menu changes with the seasons and with new ideas for dishes that Chen says â€śsometimes come to me out of the blue.â€ť When I ask her what she thinks about being named Asiaâ€™s best female chef, she just shrugs. â€śI donâ€™t have time to think about it, thereâ€™s so much to do, so many new things to create. I only sleep five to six hours a night as it is.â€ť