The queen of Taichung’s fine-dining scene is being hailed as one of the region’s top chefs —not that she’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. “Do I know him?” she wonders out loud. She probably doesn’t, but it’s a good bet that he knows who she is. Recently anointed Asia’s Best Female Chef by the people behind the S. Pellegrino-sponsored Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, Chen is Taiwan’s culinary star of the moment, and Le Moût (59 St., Taichung, Taiwan; 886-4/2375-3002) her French dining room across the road, is the only restaurant in the country to have placed on this year’s 50 Best list. It doesn’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 Chen’s hometown, and it was here that she returned after training at Paris’s Ferrandi cooking school and cutting her teeth at such prestigious Parisian restaurants as Les Ambassadeurs and Relais d’Auteuil (not to mention a stint at the French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley). In 2008 she opened Le Moût, where she deftly reinvents classic French dishes using local ingredients and cooking methods.
“I strive to create new tastes, to bring a classicism to flavors I tasted in my childhood,” she tells me after my lunch at Le Moût, a handsome space appointed with rich upholstery and antique chandeliers. “That whole process is very exciting for me, discovering how different tastes, smells, and textures will come together on the plate.”
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 Moût’s menu changes with the seasons and with new ideas for dishes that Chen says “sometimes come to me out of the blue.” When I ask her what she thinks about being named Asia’s best female chef, she just shrugs. “I don’t have time to think about it, there’s so much to do, so many new things to create. I only sleep five to six hours a night as it is.”
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2014 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Haute Pursuits”).