This culinary maestro fans out beautifully

City talk | Juliana Chen 14 Nov 2018

"I'm not a chef. But I'm passionate about food - its tradition, cooking it, and sharing it."

Many concur with this viewpoint of American fashion designer Zac Posen, and that is precisely why cuisine tourism has long been a revenue-drawing pillar of numerous economies.

The city of Taipei is no exception.

From soya bean and fried fritters FOR breakfast, fine dining with a panoramic view at Taipei 101, coffee at nostalgic hideaways, to roadside snacks at Shilin Night Market, Taipei has lots to offer to tourists.

While Hong Kong and Macau are neck and neck in the eyes of gourmets, Taipei restaurants command a character of their own because of the city's unique cultural roots and indigenous source of quality meat and produce.

After a sumptuous dinner at Xiaolu Ming Restaurant on Roosevelt Road, a posh Shanghai-Zhejiang eatery recommended by many media personalities and key opinion leaders, I had a chance to talk to executive chef Fan Tim-mei.

A Malaysian who settled down in Taiwan 38 years ago when he was 19, Fan recalled how he struggled to make ends meet by doing two jobs - driving a yellow cab for six hours after knocking off as a kitchen apprentice at 9pm every day.

Now that he has achieved fame and fortune as a "culinary maestro," media interviews often play up his "secret role" as a taxi driver, underscoring his perseverance and commitment to his family.

According to my brother-in-law who is his old friend, Fan is immensely proud of his dual roles because both signify his love of the place he now calls home.

Fan's signature dish is Dongpo pork, a Hangzhou specialty named after Song Dynasty poet and gastronome Su Dongpo.

From the choice of meat to the secret sauce, this exquisite dish, which takes six hours to prepare, is really out of this world.

His insistence on excellence via the "ancient golden way" is reflected in traditional Shanghai dishes.

They include "long-boiled bamboo shoot, bean curd sheets and ham soup," "sea cucumber and tendon stew," and "fish in wine sauce."

While all these are super tasty, his versatile culinary skills are manifested through the ease with which he traverses the worlds of Chinese and Western cooking.

His "baked escargot with garlic butter and parsley" and "fillet mignon" are comparable to those sampled in Paris and Fontainebleau.

His creativity is aptly illustrated by the mushroom-shaped "sesame flowing lava buns."

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