Street food culture and Taiwan are practically inseparable from one another. What the island is probably most well-known for are the lively night markets, populated with countless stalls offering a smorgasbord of cheap and tasty local delicacies. But unfortunately, even with food being such a central part of Taiwanese culture, the region is rarely associated with fine dining. Meet Nicolas Chang, the head chef and the founder of SAVOR, a passionate individual who feels like Taiwan’s terroir is an overlooked and untapped resource, a land offering a rich selection of rare produce and unique flavors. So after studying culinary arts abroad and being mentored by world-renowned chefs in Paris, he was set on returning to Taipei and opening a restaurant of his own.
His debut restaurant À Table, a private dining space, officially opened in 2011. “À Table was small, and the kitchen was probably only around ten square meters,” Nicolas describes. “Customers actually had to pass through the kitchen in order to get to the restroom. But I viewed the space restriction differently – I saw it as an intimate setting where I could share my passion for food with all my guests.” But after running À Table for two years, and as his customer base steadily grew, he felt an obligation to provide a more complete dining experience. “I felt like I had a responsibility to give them something even better, to give them a more well-rounded dining experience. SAVOR was born out of that sense of responsibility,” Nicolas says.
他的首家餐廳“A Table”在2011年正式開張。 Nicolas 這樣介紹他的小私廚：“À Table空間很小，廚房大概不到3坪，客人上廁所還必須要進到廚房。但這有限的空間卻給以我別有洞天的存在——在這裡我可以用最親近的方式去與客人分享我的料理精神，”小私廚開了兩年後，客源穩定增長，Nicolas的責任感也在不斷攀升，希望為大家提供一個更加舒適完整的用餐體驗。他說：“我覺得我有義務為客人帶來更好的美食，同時創造更棒的用餐環境。SAVOR就是在這種理念下應運而生。”
Nicolas’ story actually begins in the Pampas of South America and Argentina. Growing up in this region, the produce he ate often came straight from the field; his appreciation for locally sourced and organically grown ingredients can be traced back to this period of time “Now with SAVOR, we actually work with an aboriginal lady in Hualien. She’s working tirelessly to restore some of the edible wild plants native to Taiwan. Every year, we’ll visit her garden with our team and see what kind of treasures we can dig up,” says Nicolas. These types of wild plants are rarely seen in any Taipei restaurants, let alone in high-end gastronomy. But the obscure nature of these plants is undoubtedly part of the appeal for both Nicolas and his guests, who share a mutual interest in being taken out of their culinary comfort zones.
Citing his grandmother as an influence, Nicolas vividly recalls memories of her cooking. “She was a fantastic cook. Her cooking style was a mix of traditional Japanese and Taiwanese. When I taste her food, I can always feel the love and sincerity that she puts into it,” he says. “One of our amuse-bouches from the previous menu was a dish made with tomatoes and plums, which was then encapsulated in a tomato-flavored water sphere. The flavors of this dish were closely tied to my childhood, and through it, my intention was to share those memories with my guests.” Some of his other favorites include: a scallop dish, drizzled with a flavorful reduced sauce made with fifteen different vegetables; a tuna tartare dish, served with Taiwanese anchovy on a dried citrus peel; and a puffed purple rice dish, inspired by Hualien cuisine and made with magao, a rare type of spice used by aboriginal natives in Eastern Taiwan that tastes like a blend of black pepper, lemon, and ginger.
During my brief visit, the SAVOR kitchen was brimming with movement; the kitchen staff moved quickly and purposefully, chopping away and dilligently preparing for the upcoming dinner service. Nicolas moved around the kitchen in equal haste, ensuring the efficiency and quality of the entire preparation process. After prep was over, he decided to work on refining an upcoming dessert with the free time. Employing a classic molecular gastronomy technique, Nicolas plucks a large container of liquid carbon dioxide from the back of his kitchen and began to douse a pre-blended mixture with the contents. Intermittently, Nicolas would spoon a homemade hibiscus-based syrup in between applications of the carbon dioxide. The metallic countertop quickly overflows with white vapor as the blend flash-freezes into a solid. Wasting no time, Nicolas picks up a pestle and begins pummeling the frozen solid into shards of rose-colored marshmallows. “It’s done like this on purpose. I’m aiming to create organic shape similar to rocks,” Nicolas said. “I like to play with intuition, which is always fun. Unfortunately, we’re still in the process of constructing this dessert and it’s not quite ready yet.”
Despite being formally trained in France, it’s impressive to see the ways Nicolas’ dishes pay homage to Taiwan. Even more impressive is seeing how every dish that comes out of the SAVOR kitchen is a creatively constructed piece of gastronomic art. He tells me, “We do what we do not because we want to stand out from others. We want to stand up for those who have contributed so much in terms of agriculture and culture. Our predecessors have paved the way for us, and now it is our time to make things even better.”
No. 7, Lane 96, Jiangnan Street
Neihu District, Taipei
+886 2 8797 5267
Wednesday ~ Sunday
6pm ~ 10pm (Reservation only)
Contributor: David Yen
Photographers: Chunyang Lin, David Yen
+886 2 8797 5267
6pm ~ 10pm (預約制)
供稿人: David Yen
摄影师: Chunyang Lin, David Yen