Chef Lanshu Chen of Le Moût Restaurant from Taiwan has graduated from staging with notable chefs such as Pierre Hermé and Thomas Keller into Asia’s Best Female Chef 2014. Check out our interview with her as she tells us what she learned working with such industry heavyweights.
How does it feel be 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. It is a great privilege to have my work recognized by the respected industry experts who make up The Diner’s Club World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. Yet what actually really overwhelms me is the joy and congratulations from my family, my team and my old customers. It is my highest pleasure to make them so happy.
What moment inspired you to cook professionally?
I have always loved cooking, especially pastry. When I was in university I started to read world pastry chefs’ cookbooks. The more I spent time in the kitchen, the more I realized how eager I was to achieve something by hand – something solid and easy to share. So, I decided to challenge myself. I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to learn pastry. After a year, I unexpectedly changed to the cuisine sessions at Ferrandi where I was overwhelmed by the charm of French cooking. I found myself totally indulged in this world of speed and heat, and very soon I knew I could completely devote my life to this domain.
You had the opportunity to with notable chefs such as Pierre Hermé and Thomas Keller. How was your experience? What crucial lessons did you learn?
I worked in several grand chef restaurants, including Les Ambassadeurs (in Hotel de Crillon) with chef Jean-François Piège and chef Jérôme Chaucesse as well as Relais d’Auteuil with chef Patrick Pignol. Beyond France, I interned at The French Laundry in California, where I experienced a culture shock between French and American kitchen.
Chef Jean-François Piège inspired me with his amazing artistic balance of flavors and extremely exquisite visual achievements. For me, his work at Les Ambassadeurs during his Hotel de Crillon period perfectly represents the true spirit of French haute cuisine. When I worked in pastry, there was a large window between the pastry and cuisine stations. I was so impressed just looking at his brigade creating those beautiful dishes. Ever since then, I dreamed to become a chef like him – interpreting food in an artistic way.
Another important inspiration is from chef Thomas Keller, whose determination and perfectionist spirit has influenced so many chefs in the world. His team runs the most efficient gastronomic kitchens I have ever seen. Although I did not stay at the French Laundry for a long time, the way he manages the kitchen and the way he leads taught me a lot. It’s all about commitment.
What is the experience you want your guests to have while dining at Le Mout?
I try to share my love and passion for life with my guests through the food and pleasant ambience I make. When the guests come to my restaurant, I want them to feel relaxed and beautiful in themselves. I hope when they taste my food they have the true pleasure of tasting and of pure euphoria that will be a moment to remember in life.
What are some signature dishes that best represent your cuisine?
I think a restaurant’s signature dishes need to be identified by its’ guests and that takes time. They have to have sparkles of flavor or texture “shock.” I personally have some favorite creations that I would like to keep in our recipe book such as the delicious juicy Mangalica pork shoulder with a strong creamy sauce made with Ardbeg Correyvreckan whisky and bacon.
Another example is a pigeon dish with mustard greens. To represent the delicate fragrance of mustard green leaves, we use a traditional Taiwanese method to ferment the leaf and dry it. Then we wrap a whole pigeon stuffed with truffled pearl barley with this leaf. The earthiness of truffle, pearl barley, and fermented mustard green match so well with the pigeon’s sweetness and liver taste, yet all the flavors have different notes and positions to burst.
What is your most unusual source for inspiration and how does that influence the way you plate?
My source for inspiration is from everywhere. From street food I have at late night supper to a gastronomic meal, from Taiwanese cuisine to western cuisine, from colors of pictures to the smell of the wood. Sometimes it is just a reminder, giving me a hint to start. I always carry a small notebook with me and note down whatever comes to me about food. It may be just some irrelevant descriptions of my feelings toward textures and flavors.
Creation for me is like playing a puzzle; sooner or later I’ll find the essential piece to complete the whole thing as a dish. For me, the combination of ingredients typically arrives earlier than plating. I usually decide the plating at last moment according to the feeling. In some cases, however, I start with a picture of colors in mind followed by a search for proper ingredients.
What is your philosophy for plating?
I don’t know if I have a philosophy for “plating.” It is more by feeling and instinct, mingled with the intent to create a balance of visual aesthetics. I don’t plan for having a certain style of plating. It changes by itself along with the change of my life and flow of my thoughts.
In one of your interviews you said that women are under-represented in the food industry. With so much controversy on this topic, do you feel the role of women will change in the future?
New members always bring change to a traditional structure. I don’t know if there will be any big change in the food industry because of the participation of women. But it’s obvious that there will more female chefs joining this domain along with more mature social value towards them. But for me, more importantly, there should not be any gender difference in a kitchen. Chef is a neutral term.
What are your thoughts on the culinary community in Taiwan and how would you like to see the area improve?
The food culture in Taiwan is not valued as high as in France or in Europe in the last century. Therefore the culinary community here is more conservative and hasn’t really contributed to improvements. I think things will change when the chefs of a new generation become the main force. With more open vision to improve our food culture, we can construct the new platform for chefs to communicate.
What advice can you give someone aspiring to be a chef?
It will be a job requiring almost all the time and effort in life. Many people say they are passionate about food. But how much passion they prepare for decides what kind of chef they can be. I am not senior enough to mentor anyone, but for me to be a chef, determination is beyond passion. You might choose one favorite produce, and ask yourself a question, “Will it be the same lovely when I have to deal with it hundreds of times every week or everyday and can I still handle it carefully with gratefulness every time?”