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Navigating the food landscape in Taiwan often feels like an exercise of piecing together fragments of history to an island wrought with so many cultural influences. Whether it's the native aborigines, Han Chinese, Japanese or the KMT, Taiwan has long endured a plethora of cultural influences which shape it's society and culture today. Though the putonghua speaking Taiwan often masquerades as Chinese in culture (including it's food), notwithstanding, it is a place laden with delicacies from all around the world, each with their unique footprint, each with their cultural heritage.
Today, Miss. Delicious will be paying a visit to Chamonix Teppanyaki in Taipei. This well reputed establishment is owned and run by the Wowprime Group, a food and hospitality conglomerate that has become a success story case study for businesses in Taiwan. It is often lauded as one of the top employers in Taiwan with the highest ratio of university educated employees in the food and hospitality industry. I don't personally think having a university degree is as important as people make it out to be, and in the context of working for a restaurant, even less so. Still, it is an interesting fact!
In-fact, Wowprime has built up such a reputation that it has been listed in Forbes Asia's 200 Best Under a Billion list of smaller public companies. Employees are paid every two weeks, and receive pro-rata bonus payments at the end of the month. As such, the Wowprime group boasts one of the lowest employee turnover rates in the entire industry at 25%. Low turnover rates mean that less money is spent on training new staff and is a reasonable indicator for employee satisfaction.
For Wowprime group, Chamonix represents their first foray into high-end Teppanyaki. For the unacquainted, Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese food where the food is cooked on an iron griddle. Typically, the food is cooked infront of guests and thus the skill of the chef becomes an important part of the food experience. Teppanyaki restaurants can be found all over Taiwan, but it is by no coincidence that the Taiwanese love Japanese food. Rather, it has a lot to do with the history of Taiwan and Japan.
Quick history lesson
In 1895, the island of Taiwan was ceded to the Japanese Empire when the Chinese lost the first Sino Japanese war. For 50 years, the Japanese wielded their influence on the island, on the one hand helping develop the island economically, building infrastructure, developing industry etc. but also stripping the national identity of Taiwan and it's inhabitants. For those 50 years, the education system followed that of Japan. All classes would be taught in Japanese and mandarin or the the native dialect was banned from official use.
Despite the repressive rule, the Colonial Government brought about stability and significant growth in Taiwan during their 50 years in power. Long after the Japanese gave up Taiwan and left, their occupation continued to affect the local people. After all, several generations of people were subjected to the Japanese way of life, essentially morphing their cultural identity.
In my previous posts about Taiwan, I frequently made comparisons of the streets and architecture to that of Japan. Reading more about the history of Taiwan and Japan, I hope the similarities between the two make more sense.
Similarly, knowing that the Japanese way of life affected several generations of Taiwanese people, is it a surprise that Japanese food continues to be popular in Taiwan? I guess not.
Chamonix has been so popular that it has now opened nearly two dozen branches in Taiwan with an outlook of expanding to mainland China with many more.
Getting a table isn't too difficult. Most people in Taiwan will pre-book with tripadvisor or something like opentable. Usually a deposit to cover the cost of the meal secures your table but for tourists like myself a phone call a day in advance is the usual etiquette.
The branch I visited was tucked away in the basement. It almost felt like the secrecy of location was intentional for the purpose of exclusivity. Once I found it and went inside, I realised my hunch was probably not too far from the truth.
The central dining area was spectacular. It was shielded by a veil of modesty beads, which teased the curious circular shape of the dining table and the Teppanyaki iron griddle's where the food magic happens.
Sadly, this area requires even more advanced booking which meant that I was relegated to a more secluded and less exciting area in another part of the restaurant.
This waitress took me to one of the many rooms just at the back of the restaurant. The setup in these rooms will be more familiar to frequent Teppanyaki goers, a elongated semi circle for the iron griddle, seats arranged around the perimeter.
The Set Menus
The usual way to order at Teppanyaki restaurants is with a set menu instead of a la carte. At Chamonix, it is no different and you also have the choice of two set menu's or ordering a la carte.
The two set menu's differ in price quite considerably, the more expensive one offers some exclusive steak of the 1855 variety as well as imported seafood from Norway and Australia.
I opted for the New Champs Elysees menu which seemed to be the more popular choice, perhaps because it is also less than half the price of the other set menu and seemed to offer more or less the same dishes.
Complimentary bread both warm and soft and smells like it just came out of a Subway oven.
The warm appetizer of choice here is the Scallop. It is served with a hint of quite thick creme which could almost work as it's own little soup. As you can see, the servings here ascribe to that of other luxury dining places with bite size pickings served on large plates. The scallop itself, soft and juicy confirming it's freshness.
First up, the Classic Seafood Soup. A very light soup which i'm sure western diners would find quite bland. However it does draw your taste buds to the fish fillet which itself is again very soft and full of fresh sea aroma. The tomato base in this case is sour, but only very slightly. It's a delicate balance but I think the same dish in China would have over done it with the saltiness. In this regard, the soup is very well done.
Soup number two is the tender beef slice gravy soup. Acting as a precursor to the beef coming in the main course, the soup was again very plain, so much so that it surprises you how good gravy can taste when diluted to this degree and not overwhelming the taste of the beef.
One of the highlights of the Teppanyaki experience is watching the chef prepare the food right in front of you. The chef uses two inverted triangular shaped spatulas to cook the food on the iron griddle. Often wielding them like swords, using them to cut the food, as well as stir fry them. It's weirdly hypnotic watching them work and honestly is one of y favourite parts of the Teppanyaki experience.
Lemon Sorbet Shot
Truffle & Mushroom Salad
Pan fried vanilla chicken breast with Pesto
Shrimp stir fried rice
French style crisp fried Bass fillet
Sautéed Tenderloin Steak with Truffle and Garlic
Lyon Chicken breast cutlet and seafood combo
Strangely, the dessert is served in another part of the restaurant. I would assume it is because the griddle tables would melt the desserts very quickly.
First up we have the Chocolate Mousse. The theme of the restaurant is delicacy, and even it's desserts are made to be "sweet enough". This chocolate mousse is no different and tastes surprisingly "light" for a traditionally rich dessert.
And finally, the Strawberry Sorbet with Cheese. Topped off with a mini Oreo biscuit, my absolute favourite dessert and a great way to cool down after a very hot main course.
That wraps up the Chamonix Teppanyaki gourmet experience. Did you feel hungry reading the post and looking at the pictures? I hope so! Food is one of the primary reasons people visit Taiwan, and today, it continues to be considered a food capital in Asia. Today, we learned that the Japanese occupation of Taiwan has helped it infuse the very best of Japanese food culture into the already expansive list of exotic foods on offer.
I can't think of a Teppanyaki place that exudes quite as much luxury as Chamonix. Indeed it was a shock to me to find that there can even be classy Teppanyaki. Still, i'm very glad that Chamonix have set a very fine example and I'm sure that if you decide to pay it a visit, you will be very happy that you did.
Taiwan really is a fascinating place, and I look forward to sharing more of my travel adventures there with you all.
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