Taiwanese Chef Lanshu Chen Serves Up The Latest On Her Culinary Jet Setting
March 27, 2015
Published on Mar 27, 2015
For the Taiwanese chef Lanshu Chen, cooking is only part of the job. The chef, who worked at high-profile restaurants like the French Laundry in Napa Valley, owns Le Moût Restaurant in Taichung City, Taiwan, a member of the Relais & Châteaux group. In early March, Ms. Chen, 34, was in Carmel-by-the Sea, Calif., for Relais & Châteaux's GourmetFest, featuring more than 20 well-known chefs.
Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Ms. Chen.
Q. How much are you on the road for work?
A. I take a dozen or so trips a year, but they’re usually short — between two and three days — because I’m always in a rush to get back to cooking at Le Moût.
GourmetFest is one of many annual global food festivals. What do you think these festivals mean for both the participating chefs and attendees?
As a chef, it is truly enjoyable and inspiring to have a chance to exchange ideas and to celebrate with other chefs. And for the people who come to the festivals, you're not limited to trying one style of cooking, and you get a sense of different chefs' perceptions of foods and their personal cultures.
While female chefs like yourself have certainly become more visible in the food world in recent years, they still seem to lag behind their male counterparts. Why do you think that is?
I think it is simply because there haven't been enough female chefs, which dates back to old societal norms of what roles are acceptable for women. But I do think that is slowly changing, and there are more of us committing ourselves professionally to this field.
You have international training, but you chose to go home to open your own restaurant in 2008. Why?
I had been thinking about having my own place for a while and thought that Taiwan is where it should be because the concept of what I wanted to do — a fine-dining contemporary French spot with subtle Taiwanese influences — didn’t really exist in the country.
Is that how you would describe the food at Le Moût?
Yes. It's a balance of my roots and my training abroad, and I use a lot of local fruits and vegetables that are harder to find elsewhere. One example is turnips. I use preserved turnips, which are very salty, to add in a touch of saltiness into sauces, or I’ll make turnip carpaccio and serve it with an egg yolk.
When you travel, what kinds of culinary experiences do you look for, and what advice do you have for travelers who want to stay away from generic and touristy places on the road?
I like a mix of food experiences and encourage the same for anyone else. Visiting a new place is not just about dining at the big-name restaurants. I do that, of course, but I like to let the chefs of these fancier places show me their favorites in town. And I’m a fan of street food, especially in Asia where there is such a strong tradition of it, so I definitely get a taste of this side of a city as well.
What has been your most memorable meal so far?
The four-hour dinner I had three years ago at Ultraviolet in Shanghai, which is run by the French chef Paul Pairet. The restaurant hosts only 10 diners a night, and the meal engages all the senses. When I was served a dish with mushrooms and truffles, it came covered in a black lid and was emanating smoke, and the air smelled of soil and fog. Also, there are projectors which display images on the wall to correspond with the dishes you're eating, and this one was of the forest. You literally felt like you were in the forest.
As a chef, eating well must be a priority for you. Is there any food from home you make sure to take with you when you’re on the road?
Tea is very important to me because it brings me calm and relaxation, so I always travel with loose black and oolong tea and enjoy it in my hotel room. If I have space, I even bring a teapot and cups.
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