By Trista di Genova / The Wild East
Preview of upcoming article for Wine & Dine magazine
Hungering for a taste of the fine Italian cuisine of my ancestors, the folks at Far Eastern Hotel in Taipei kindly invited me for an amazing lunch recently, a chance to sample the gastronomical wares of the great chef, Antonio Tardi. He’s from Napoli, and at age 38 considered “rather young” to be head chef at the world-class hotel’s Marco Polo restaurant.
He’s worked under the celebrated Chef Gualtiero Marchesi, considered ‘the founder of modern Italian cuisine’, then had a stint in Turks and Caicos, a resort island south of the Bahamas.
He aims to bring Italian cuisine here to Taiwan. Chef Tardi chose Taipei mainly because people here are “aware of Italian cuisine, but not to the level of fine dining.” So he wanted to be part of that transition process. But he’s been here for almost two years, which means you should go and check out his artistry at Marco Polo, before he finishes his contract and moves on to another country!
Chef Tardi uses mostly local ingredients. This is something he worried about at first — the quality, taste and availability of local ingredients. But he was pleasantly surprised.
“Here there are so many varieties of tomatoes,” he marvels. And because of the weather, which he feels is similar to Italy, “there is very good seafood and vegetables.” However, there are certain things he won’t compromise on – like cheese, good olive oil; or Parma ham which he imports, “because the taste is different.”
He serves Banfi Toscan wine, San Angelo Pinot grigio, to me and Tricia Chen, Shangri-La’s PR guru who has joined me for lunch to fill me in about this Napolitano artiste. “Only foreign guests really appreciate wine with food at lunch or dinnertime,” Tricia adds; “It’s not part of the dining culture here, at least yet.”
This is accompanied with bread, artfully served in a variety of forms, handmade every day, with anchovies and capers.
Then comes the delectable Welcome Bite. A scallop, with a wonderfully tasty pesto-like sauce.
Then my dream comes true buratta cheese – cream with real mozzarella (the likes of which I’ve never seen in Taiwan), which becomes burrata cheese. This combination, he says, “has more texture than mozzarella.” It comes with a spread made with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mashed green olives, capers, anchovies. Wow, heaven.
Tricia mentions, “It’s hard for Taiwanese people to appreciate it, if you’re not a cheese fan like yourself.”
He feels he’s tried all products in Taiwan; as for cheese, he’s “not able to use local ones.”
“My vegetables change with every season,” he says. He often uses chrevril, cibolet, chives, fresh oregano.
Tardi’s favorite spice? Basil. Because it ‘members me of when I used to make little jar of tomato, with grandma.” Then perhaps rosemary: “I love it. I should put in second. I like it because it’s strong, but at the same time very delicate as spice.”
Favorite Taiwanese noodle? “The ones used in beef noodle soup, because the noodles ‘are exactly the same kind as in Italy, bici. But we would add ragout sauce, instead; or seafood, duck sauce mushroom sauce.”
Favorite Italian noodle? “If I had to choose just one, it would be just classic penne with tomato sauce, extra virgin oil, basil, a bottle of wine, a bottle and a glass. And life is good, you know? Ma bene.
Next comes a line of seared tuna, marinaded in pepper and salt, but not too long. “Chef Tardi pan fries the outer layer, just briefly,” Tricia explains, adding that tuna is one of Tardi’s favorite fishes to work with, because raw or cooked, you can flavor it more easily.
Dessert is something like a cannoli surrealist painting, artfully splashed across the plate.
“How do you eat it?” I ask. It’s up to you, he shrugs. “Smash it,” he suggests.
Not wanting to destroy the masterpiece yet, I begin with the long chocolate spiral shaving, wondering how he managed to do that…
Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei: 201 Tunhua S. Rd., Section 2. Tel: (886 2) 2378 8888