The Chef Transforming Taipei’s Farm Produce Into Works of Fine French Fare at Her Michelin-Approved Restaurant Ephernite
A mere five-minute walk from Liuzhangli MRT Station in Taipei, you’ll find Restaurant Ephernite, discreetly tucked away in a quiet street.
Facing the back of Shangri-la's Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in the Daan district, its cosy interiors boasts a modern minimalist aesthetic, with chic black walls and dimmed tungsten lights that help create a simple yet elegant setting for up to 20 dinners.
The idea, it would seem, is to keep the focus on the food, and justifiably so; the restaurant had earned a Michelin Plate recognition in the Taipei edition back in 2018 for its inspired French fare.
Founded by Taiwanese chef Vanessa Huang, Ephernite is managed by her husband, Claude Chen, who is also the restaurant’s sommelier and maitre d’. “If I have to describe my food or define it, it is French food without a doubt," Huang shares. "But it’s unique French food built around my own personality; I’m not interested in copying traditional dishes, I want to bring my ideas and philosophies to my guests,” she explains.
To understand this better, it helps to know that Huang’s passion for French gastronomy was something she stumbled upon during her university days in Paris, where she majored in filmmaking and art. “My host family were bakers and I learnt some baking techniques from them. They take what they eat seriously; always mindful about food,” she says.
After graduating, she returned to Taiwan to work for her family’s trading business. But her heart remained in France. Not wasting any time, she was soon back in the city of lights to study at the Ferrandi Paris School of Culinary Arts, and also managed to secure an apprenticeship at the acclaimed three Michelin-starred Astrance. That was when she met Chen, a French-born Taiwanese who, at the time, was managing his family-owned restaurant in the suburbs of Paris.
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I’m not interested in copying traditional dishes. I want to bring my ideas and philosophies to my guests.
Moved by her time in France, Huang originally wanted to open a small cafe in Taiwan. "However, I saw a whole different world when I attended cooking school. The scale of a three-starred Michelin restaurant, the French culture, and French tastes that Claude introduced me to had some impact on me,” she shares.
The couple left for Taiwan in 2014 and opened Ephernite a year later. The name is a play on the words “ephemeral” and “eternity” that alludes to a memorable dining experience. Their main objective is to provide Taiwanese people with high-quality French cuisine in a relaxed environment by combining Chen’s keen knowledge of wine-pairing and Huang’s culinary works of art.
Huang is also proud to be part of the ongoing farm-to-table social movement, which supports the local farming industry, sourcing fresh produce from farms within Taipei. One of her regular suppliers is Zheng Ru Yen of Grass Mountain Farm that specialises in micro farming.
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The close relationship between farmer and chef is something she also discovered while training in France. “This is more than a collaboration between restaurant and farmer; we are like a team,” she muses.
Like many top restaurants, Ephernite’s menu is dependent on what is in season, so there is no fixed menu, as it changes every day. “After we receive the ingredients, we take into consideration the weather that day, and also what we think our diners would like to have," she explains. "We have to come up with new ideas and experiment daily. When the weather and ingredients come together perfectly, we’ll make the dish."
Huang also adopts a zero-waste approach to the use of ingredients in the kitchen. “Take radish, for example. We use the good-looking ones to make dishes and non-good-looking ones to make mashed radish," she tells. "We even use radish stems to make pickles, radish leaves to make salads, and radish flowers to decorate the dish; we use everything."
Some people may find my cuisine too fine, too feminine, too Asian. As long as there are customers coming, I will keep doing what I do.
Although intrinsically informed by classical French techniques, a large part of Huang’s creations—such as her signature vegetable terrine—are Taiwanese-inspired and speaks to her love of vegetables and her experiences growing up in a vegetarian household. “We use 12 different kinds of vegetables, not including those we use to make the broth and stock. There are also sides with different fresh vegetable salads and our pickled green mangoes,” she elaborates.
You can certainly feel Huang’s passion and respect for the ingredients in her food. Every dish on her degustation menu is beautifully-presented with a colourful combination of flowers or leaves. One might even see it as a reflection of her soft-spoken and delicate demeanour.
“Some people may find my cuisine too fine, too feminine; or some people may think that these French dishes are too Asian. As long as there are customers coming to my restaurant, I will keep doing what I do,” she says.
Access is a collaboration between Singapore Tatler and CNA Luxury.