A culinary journey started from fried chicken fillets
Interviewee/ Chef Yeh Jia-Hsiang, Blue Cook Italian Restaurant Interviewer and Editor/ Daniella
Looking back, I had never thought about becoming a chef. I had been fooling around in the streets with friends since junior high school. At the age of 24, I decided to return home to look after my grandparents. It was then I had a change of mind and started my first business with a fried chicken fillet cart.
I started selling fried chicken fillet on Zhangcao Road in downtown Changhua. Intended to make a distinction from common flavors of fried chicken fillet like pepper and chilly, I invented a dipping sauce based the combination of fruit and yogurt. Business was good, but I figured it was not what I truly wanted, so I wrapped it up and quit.
Learning about Italian tastes in Taiwanese spaghetti
Blue Cook 1.0 was opened in 2007. Back then, there weren’t many diners or spaghetti specialty restaurants. I opened a spaghetti restaurant based on my experience serving as an apprentice in an Italian restaurant. At first, I served whatever dishes that appealed to the customers. I did not distinguish good and bad in what I serve. When the business was good, I kept the menu. When the market demanded something else, I followed the trend. So, there were times when customers could get honey toasts and waffles in my restaurant.
I followed the business model for several years until one day, a friend asked, “You sell spaghetti. Have you been to Italy?” The question got me thinking, how much did I know about Italy? What was I seeking with all the change of menus and interior decor? I then started gathering Italian recipes, reading about Italian culture and history. I also took Italian cooking lessons. It was my endeavor to trace the root of Italian cuisines.
Rebooting my cooking spirit in senses
Before Blue Cook, it had never occurred to me what a professional cook should be equipped with. In 2015, I stumbled across a partnership with Bon Voyage Pâtisserie to sell its desserts in my restaurant. The collaboration introduced me to the layers of food. The pâtissier of Bon Voyage Pâtisserie often shared with me the process of dessert making. Essentially, the moment a dessert is presented to a customer, flavors and tastes are being received via the eye, mouth, tongue and nose. Through rounds and rounds of discussions and in-depth tasting, the act of eating has evolved into a sensational analysis about the different layers of the food. Enlightened by the confidence and passion of the pâtissier of Bon Voyage Pâtisserie, I started to pursue the essence of cuisines. A dish can be more than just the executional result of a series of procedures in the kitchen. Rather, a dish can encompass a wonderful story.
With the notion, I took the Certification of Proficiency in Italian Cuisine (C.P.I.C) in 2016. The exam for the certification covers academic knowledge on Italy’s geography, history and culture, and the actual practice of cooking Italian dishes which include starter, appetizer, main course and dessert. I acquired the sheer consistency of authentic Italian cuisines. For instance, spaghetti carbonara is a northern Italian dish made with egg, olive oil, cheese and pork. As Italian miners would normally have lunch in the mines, they hung pork in the mine to have it naturally dried (It is the making of bacon.) They would make lunch with ingredients they brought to work along with the bacon in the mine, and the dish is called carbonara. The respect Italians show towards natural settings and traditional recipes cannot be overemphasized in authentic Italian food. Italians value the original flavor and essence of every dish, so this is why a Pizza Margherita cannot be topped with seafood, and a comprehensive Italian menu can never tolerate the mixture of poultry and seafood.
From place of production to dining table, I am making food and also making sense of myself
Gradually, I got a grasp of Italian cooks’ emphasis, “from place of production to dining table”. The essence of cooking can always be traced back to where the food comes from. How certain food ingredients are to be processed also abides by specific principles. More importantly, there are a bunch of details tucked away in the making of a dish. For example, white wine is poured over boiled spaghetti to prepare the spaghetti for better mixture with the condiment. The presence of white wine itself may not be observed in the final presentation of the dish, but it allows the taste buds to pick up more of culinary intricacy. This is what I constantly remind myself of in the kitchen for all these years. Chef is to sharpen culinary skills in order to present an attitude.
Notes to the interview
During the interview, Chef Yeh repetitively mentioned “cooking Taiwanese flavors with Italian passion”. Evolving from a person who knew little about cooking to a chef now reflects his mother land on the dining table dedicated to Taiwanese people, it took him ten years to arrive at this point, reviewing what he is doing and what he is presenting on the plate. I suppose “cooking Taiwanese flavors with Italian passion” is a summary of his ten-year culinary journey. A meal at Blue Cook is not just to fill up your empty stomach, but a chance to hear about Chef Yeh’s lessons learned in the kitchen.
04 723 2579 FB: 藍廚義式廚房
彰化市實踐路42號 No.42, Shijian Rd., Changhua City 500, Taiwan