Turning Local Ingredients Into an Amazing Feast
Vincent Chen Pursues Original Flavors
Photos｜ Chen Hongdai
▲Chen insists on “bringing out the best of nature,” choosing fresh seasonal ingredients that present the original colors and flavors of the food. (Photo: Chen Hongdai)
“I don’t follow any recipes, only my own sense of taste,” says Vincent Chen (陳之穎), the chef of PURE Cuisine (純‧歐法料理餐廳) at Hotel Royal Beitou (北投老爺飯店). He has very sensitive taste buds and regards nature as his guiding light when it comes to food. He relies on his exquisite skills and clever ideas to generate stunning flavors out of fresh natural ingredients. Foodies now know that good taste and good health can co-exist and fuse perfectly.
At his vocational high school, Chen specialized in electronics but was also interested in design. But when he graduated from college, he decided to take a full-time job at the steakhouse where he’d worked during his school years. He started as a waiter, then helped in the kitchen. The chefs imparted a lot of culinary knowledge and skills to him, and this spring-boarded into an interest in catering. He then made up his mind that he wanted to be a professional chef. Working in big hotels after that, he learned more and more about ingredients and widened his vision as well. Later, he went to France and learned how to cook authentic French food. This took his cooking skills to the next level, helped him find his own way in developing cuisine, and gained him a position in the cooking world.
Putting an Equal Sign Between Healthy and Delicious
Soon after embarking on his cooking career, Chen started pursuing a balance between serving something healthy and serving something delicious. He stopped marinating beef and refused to add any artificial spices from then on. At first, not all his customers would accept such concepts. Then, the food safety scandals of recent years erupted, and people finally started realizing he had a point.
“There are many ways to make food taste good and still be healthy,” Chen says. There’s a myth some people have that if something is healthy it must necessarily taste bland or bad. But Chen begs to differ. He says that selecting ingredients, cutting, and the cooking process itself are all skills that affect the taste of the dish; you don’t need additives to enhance flavor.
This is why Chen pays so much attention to selecting ingredients. For example, he chooses only organic vegetables from small farms on Yangmingshan. These are generally smaller than store bought, but have a stronger flavor. He avoids fish farms entirely. Wild fish has a firm, vibrant texture with a rich, natural umami taste. Most importantly, he cooks with what is available and never with ingredients he can’t readily commandeer. So naturally, he believes seasonal ingredients are the best, and tries to present the flavor unique to each.
Served Fresh Only!
In addition to his care selecting ingredients, Chen is even more zealous about preserving freshness. Take seafood as an example; he demands that each fish be kept on ice from the time it’s been caught, through the shipping process, to the moment it is placed on his kitchen counter. Even the process of removing bones must be done on ice. He never allows body temperature or any other factor to affect freshness. All ingredients must look like they just left Mother Nature!
Chen holds an “old school” attitude about cuisine. In his mind, what’s more important than spending time designing plate presentation is maintaining a dish’s temperature, so that the food enters the customer’s mouth in the best condition and with the perfect taste. This kind of idea perfectly defines Chen’s approach to good dining.
The culinary world, which Chen entered almost accidentally, has become the most splendid and important chapter of his life. He hopes to share this natural diet concept with more people, and believes that with enough effort and promotion, people will place greater value on ingredients and start eating in a more healthy way.
▲Chen insists on keeping the original flavor of ingredients, and takes great care in presenting every gourmet dish. (From left to right: Steamed Wild Fish, Caramel Rooibos Dacquoise.) (Photo: Chen Hongdai)
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