TOP TOQUE

El­e­vat­ing hum­ble, abo­rig­i­nal in­gre­di­ents in Tai­wan is at the heart of Richie Lin’s culi­nary mis­sion. Jes­sica Chan finds out how the head chef of MUME is shak­ing up the coun­try’s fine din­ing scene.

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CONTENTS -

Richie Lin of MUME

Af­ter the restau­rant shut­ters come down af­ter ev­ery din­ner ser­vice, it’s off to Tonghua Night Mar­ket. There, Richie Lin sits in­con­spic­u­ously with his team, among lo­cals and trav­ellers, tuck­ing into a bowl of gan yi mian (Tainan noo­dles with ground pork). It’s hard to guess that this man is, presently, one of Tai­wan’s most sought-af­ter chefs. Lin’s restau­rant, MUME, re­cently snagged one Miche­lin star and the num­ber 18 spot on the Asia’s 50 Best Restau­rants 2018 list (MUME was also one of the two win­ners of the High­est Climber Award 2018, mov­ing up 25 spots from last year’s 43), thanks to his idio­syn­cratic and im­pas­sioned show­case of Tai­wanese pro­duce. Think New Nordic cui­sine served with abo­rig­i­nal in­gre­di­ents like maqaw (moun­tain pep­per), fer­mented black beans or white as­para­gus from Changhua.

MUME sits in a quiet al­ley of Da’an, where Lin and his fel­low culi­nary in­no­va­tors, Long Xiong and Kai Ward, have been wow­ing din­ers with their elab­o­rate and in­tri­cate dishes. His famed beef tartare sur­prises the palate with an in­trigu­ing burst of chye poh (pre­served turnips) and shrimp sauce. “I left Hong Kong when I was 13 and lived in Toronto for 10 years,” re­calls Lin. “The in­flu­ence, on hind­sight, was huge. It be­came nat­u­ral for me to mix western el­e­ments with my Asian her­itage; that is who I am.”

What sur­prises is his late start into the in­dus­try, switch­ing from a mar­ket­ing ca­reer to the back-break­ing world of the culi­nary arts in 2007. But he has come a long way since grad­u­at­ing from Aus­tralia’s Le Cor­don Bleu circa 2009. Fate brought him to Quay, where he be­came en­am­oured of Peter Gil­more’s na­ture-based phi­los­o­phy. Noma, fol­lowed, where he turned down the po­si­tion of a pas­try chef for a lab coat at Nordic Food Lab. The cur­rent menu at MUME per­fectly echoes the pro­duce-driven culi­nary phi­los­o­phy, which the 37-year-old re­gards as un­de­fin­able and in­ter­na­tional. “Every­one in the kitchen comes from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and back­grounds and with dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. Defin­ing the style by tra­di­tional stan­dards is dif­fi­cult. It is a rev­o­lu­tion and a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of where and who you are,” Lin says proudly.

What does MUME stand for?

What name would bet­ter rep­re­sent our dream to put Tai­wan on the mod­ern gas­tro­nomic map of the world? It refers to plum blos­som, the coun­try’s na­tional flower. It is bub­bling with po­ten­tial, from its great pro­duce to culi­nary prow­ess, but is of­ten over­looked.

Com­ing from a mar­ket­ing back­ground, what sparked your in­ter­est in a culi­nary ca­reer?

The defin­ing mo­ment was the pass­ing of my fa­ther 10 years ago. It had a huge im­pact on me and left me ques­tion­ing what I wanted out of life. What ful­fils me? As cliché as it sounds, I fol­lowed my heart (much to my mother’s dis­may).

How has work­ing with Peter Gil­more and René Redzepi in­flu­enced you?

Words will never be enough to ex­press my ad­mi­ra­tion. Peter Gil­more is an in­cred­i­ble men­tor. The way he in­cor­po­rated na­ture into his cui­sine opened my eyes. Read his book Food In­spired by Na­ture and you’ll see. It in­spired my move to Noma. Redzepi is an icon and in­spi­ra­tion to a new gen­er­a­tion of cooks. It was what he ac­com­plished out­side the kitchen that struck me most. He got me think­ing about what chefs can do for their en­vi­ron­ment, which doesn’t come easy. Be it us­ing whole an­i­mals or plants, supporting sus­tain­able farms and char­i­ties or re­duc­ing the car­bon foot­print, it all com­pounds on the re­spon­si­bil­ity (and cost) of run­ning a restau­rant. But I’ve not looked back. It is what I want to do.

About 90 to 95 per­cent of MUME’S menu is cre­ated us­ing Tai­wanese in­gre­di­ents. Why?

While Tai­wan is small and moun­tain­ous, it demon­strates tremen­dous di­ver­sity in its ter­roir and her­itage. We looked to 16 in­dige­nous tribes who know the land like the back of their hands. It was through watch­ing them for­age that we dis­cov­ered ma­gao, a cit­rusy pep­per we can’t seem to stop us­ing. The restau­rant doubles as our R&D space and is of­ten filled with wild veg­eta­bles we would ex­per­i­ment with. Some­times, we’d rope in ex­perts from other fields for dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. There’s bird nest fern, car­damine, aiyu seeds and be­tel nut flower, to name a few. It is our goal to in­tro­duce din­ers (lo­cal and tourists) to this unique side of Tai­wan.

What would you con­sider as your restau­rant’s sig­na­ture dish?

The MUME salad is a pic­ture-per­fect bou­quet of 20 to 30 lo­cally grown veg­eta­bles. It is sea­sonal and we would change the cook­ing meth­ods to bet­ter suit each com­po­nent. In a way, it is con­stantly evolv­ing. I also wanted to chal­lenge our per­cep­tion of a salad. Rather than have it acidic with a vinai­grette, I uses fer­mented black beans, a tra­di­tional Chi­nese condi­ment, to in­tro­duce a burst of umami. There’s no dress­ing. In­stead, the beans are de­hy­drated, chopped finely into the size of coarse salt and mixed into the vi­brant med­ley of veg­eta­bles. Tell us more about your char­ity ini­tia­tive Hao Hao Chi Gu Shi Che? As a fa­ther of two (two-and-a-half and nine years), I wanted to reach out to ru­ral kids to share about the ben­e­fits of lo­cal pro­duce as well as learn how to cook, plate and add a sense of aes­thetic to their ex­pe­ri­ence with food. They hardly get a chance to try western cui­sine.

It of­fi­cially starts this month, when I will be us­ing onions from Hengchun (the south­ern­most town­ship) to make a ren­di­tion of the French Onion Soup, an onion salad sea­soned with black beans along with a multi-grain stew with caramelised onions and pork. The ge­og­ra­phy and cli­mate yield amaz­ing onions. It is a fan­tas­tic way to let them dis­cover what’s right at their doorstep and share with them the his­tory of French cui­sine.

Head chef and owner Richie Lin with chefs Long Xiong and Kai Ward

Beef tartare MUME’S in­te­ri­ors

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