Obsession 2016: Lanshu Chen

Obsession 2016: Lanshu Chen

by Great British Chefs 02 February 2016

By combining the classical technical skill of French cooking with the Asian flavours she grew up with, Lanshu Chen is putting Taiwan on the world's culinary map. We take a closer look at her unique style as she cooks at this year's Obsession.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

A trip to Le Moût – Lanshu Chen’s acclaimed restaurant – could make you forget where you are for a moment. Based in Taichung, a bustling city on the west coast of Taiwan, it is an homage to everything Parisian. Antique French furniture, chandeliers, decorative mirrors and touches of gold throughout mean it’s certainly a change from the traditional interiors of Asia.

However, it’s this contrast between classical French cookery and the flavours of Taiwan that has made Lanshu one of the most exciting chefs around. She learnt her craft in Paris, gaining a diploma in pastry from Le Cordon Bleu and working at some of the city’s best restaurants, before an internship at Thomas Keller’s legendary French Laundry in California inspired her to open her own restaurant back home. This year, Lanshu was invited to cook her unique food at Nigel Haworth’s Obsession festival. ‘I had heard of Obsession long ago but this is the first time I’ve visited Northcote and this part of England,’ she tells us. ‘I feel very moved by both the landscape and history around me.’

Lanshu has mastered French cooking techniques, but still views food in a Taiwanese way. ‘I would use the Chinese word jong to describe my cooking style, which means a fusing or meeting in harmony of flavours and textures,’ explains Lanshu. ‘I’m always seeking the perfect balance in my dishes. In Chinese culinary culture, there is a sixth flavour in addition to sweet, salty, bitter, acidic and spicy, which is more of a warming sensation – a slight heat at the back of your palate – and I love including this in my cooking. Texture is also very important to me, as it can change the way we feel about certain ingredients and how long a taste lingers in one’s mouth. By playing around with the textures and different flavours, I can create top, middle and base notes in a dish. Bringing all these together in perfect harmony is what I try to achieve.’

Le Moût
Le Moût is a taste of Paris on the island of Taiwan
Lanshu dessert
Asa a Le Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef, Lanshu's presentation skills are second to none

Intriguing ingredients

Cooking Taiwanese-French fusion food in Lancashire sounds like an ingredient sourcing nightmare, but Lanshu has taken no chances. ‘I’ve had to bring over some of the essential ingredients that represent Taiwanese flavours, as they can’t be found in England,’ she explains. ‘For example, I use a twenty-five-year-old aged radish oil to complement my foie gras dish. It lends a deep, savoury note that takes the flavour into another dimension. I’ve also got some lactose-fermented sour cabbage, which I use in one of my courses.’

Lanshu’s menu for Obsession is full of intriguing flavours and bold, vibrant colour, but there’s one course that the chef is most excited about serving. ‘My favourite dish is called Nympheas, a dessert inspired by Monet’s painting of a water lily pond,’ she says. ‘It’s a warm sweet soup with soft tofu custard and lychee, flavoured with a winter melon and black tea infusion.’

Back home, Lanshu says the Taiwanese food scene is constantly getting better. The restaurants, suppliers and producers are all rising in quality, and French haute cuisine is starting to catch on. ‘People in Taiwan have started to pay more attention to the quality and origin of the produce,’ she explains. ‘They also care about the service and ambience in restaurants more than ever. Haute cuisine in Taiwan only emerged around ten years ago, but still there are only a few French restaurants promoting this idea. Japanese cuisine in Taiwan was already very mature and refined, but French restaurants help get the attention of things like the Michelin Guide. The producers are also becoming much better, especially locally.’