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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Pudding

Last Christmas I made a Bûche de Noël with meringue mushrooms from Jacques Pepin's book to serve at a Christmas dinner party.


This year I thought about making another one but didn't quite get into the same holiday spirit. This was partly because Christmas is actually not a holiday in Taiwan; it is just another work day. Nevertheless I was still hoping to have some holiday treats. Just as I was wondering about what to do, dear friends of ours surprised us with a Christmas pudding from Duchy (started by Charles, Prince of Whales) and a jar of brandy butter.


My friends know full well my penchant for food and I was delighted with the gift. I must admit Christmas pudding is actually a new thing for me. While I enjoy some British cuisine, my knowledge of British desserts is quite limited. As one can see from the picture at the top, I typically favor the French. Therefore, before I followed the instructions to reheat the pudding, I started to research about this concoction.

Christmas pudding is essentially a steamed pudding with a lot of dried fruit, nuts, and some brandy. It is usually made a few weeks before Christmas and then reheated before serving. The pudding is typically enjoyed on Christmas Day and we decided to follow suit. Traditionally the pudding contains silver coins, which is believed to bring wealth for the following year. The pudding is also usually served with a flaming brandy doused on top of it. I skipped this part since it was not in the reheat instruction from Duchy. Of the three methods to reheat: steam, boil, and microwave, I opted for the last one. The first two methods require a couple of hours, which I didn't have. The microwave method took only about 15 minutes. While the pudding was being reheated, it smelled great; the cognac in the pudding perfumed the apartment.

After the pudding is cooked, I flipped it onto a plate. I must admit the Christmas pudding is definitely not the prettiest of desserts. It is essentially a black pudding and I didn't have the usual decoration of holly to lighten up the appearance.


Nevertheless, looks can be deceiving. The pudding was actually quite tasty, especially with the creamy brandy butter.


Therefore, a big "thank you" to our dear friends for introducing us to another British tradition. Maybe next year, I will try to make one myself with some coins and flaming brandy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Au Revoir to All That

Recently I finished reading Michael Steinberger's Au Revoir to All That. The book is about the decline of the quality of French food culture. There are chapters on the influence of the Michelin Guide, the problem with Camembert cheese, the rise of the entrepreneur chefs such as Alain Ducasse, and the success of McDonald's in France. I quite enjoyed reading the book.


I learned from the book that the McCafés in France serve macarons. I was quite amused by Steinberger's account of him trying the macarons along with other journalists:

Petit [Chief Executive of McDonald's France] began making the rounds with a plate of macarons and insisted I try one. I took a pistachio. Not bad, I thought, but no Ladurée. As if reading my mind, Petit immediately chimed in, "We get the macarons from Holder, the company that owns Ladurée."

Below is an ad for the macaron at McDo:


I am reminded of my earlier blog entry on asking Vera to choose between Robu's macaron and McDo. It looks like in France, it would be no contest.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Quote | Trace

Unless you trace the line you will not remember.

- Le Corbusier, cited by Michael Graves in an interview about books and learning from precedents.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Quote | Customers

We are architects ... We serve customers...I can't just decide myself what's being built. Someone decides what they want, then I work for them.

- Frank Gehry responding to charges that his buildings are too extravagant.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gehry for Gaga

Is there anything Frank Gehry cannot design? The octogenarian just designed a hat for Lady Gaga, and drew the initial design on his iPhone.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lang Lang

Maria and I were invited to attend Lang Lang's concert with Taipei Symphony Orchestra at Taipei Dome. It was unfortunate the concert had to be held at a sports arena instead of a concert hall, because the music had to be amplified and the acoustics simply left much to be desired.

The same can be said of Lang's outfit. He wore a slightly shiny, black tuxedo-like outfit. The jacket has shawl collars with white trim, which continues down the side seams of the pants. I don't understand why today's classical musicians, especially conductors and soloists, can't just wear normal tuxedos with tails, which never go out of style.

As for the concert I was a bit disappointed with the program. In the first half, Lang played the Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. I like the piece except I can no longer disassociate the piece from United Airlines. Lang probably cannot either since he made a commercial for United Airlines with Herbie Hancock last year. In any event, I don't feel classical-jazz improvisation is Lang's strong suit.

After the intermission, Lang played Chopin's Opus 22. He finished the concert with Yellow River Concerto. I thought he would be tired of playing this piece since he plays it constantly in front of Chinese audiences. I would have preferred to listen to something like Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, the piece he is planning to play later this month in Berlin.

Lang played two more pieces, both by Chopin, as encore to end the concert: Op. 10 No. 3 and Op. 25 No. 1. There is no question that Lang is an extremely talented pianist. He also seems to be a charismatic person, very much at ease with the spotlight, and has a desire to connect with the audience. However his interpretation or style of play simply doesn't suit my taste. This was clearly illustrated by the two encore pieces. Besides his gyrations and expressions, he likes to drag out the notes and play the pieces much slower than my liking. For me there is a bit of unnecessary indulgence. While I admire his prodigious talent, I have to respectfully disagree with his approach.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Quote | Lobster

My mother and he [Abe Pollin] always celebrated Shabbat dinner on Friday night. And they always had lobster.

- Bob Pollin on his father Abe Pollin's belief that leading a moral life is more important than the rituals.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Costco

I was quite amused by Alan Richman's story about taking the Michelin three-star chef Eric Ripert to Costco. I was reminded of an encounter I had a few months ago with a friend about Costco. My friend said to me, "You are from the States, you must shop at Costco a lot." I said, "I lived in Manhattan, I have never been inside a Costco until I went to the one in Taipei."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Maclaren

Maclaren's stroller recall was front page news in Taiwan's newspapers and news programs, however the coverages have a different angle. Instead of just reporting on the specifics of the problem, the stories talked about how the stroller is popular with celebrities.

Below is from an article in China Times, which listed the various owners of Maclaren strollers, including Brad Pitt, Kate Winslet, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Elizabeth Hurley, and celebrities in Taiwan.

瑪格羅蘭是全美第一大嬰兒車品牌,許多好萊塢名流都愛用,包括布萊德彼特、凱特溫絲蕾、網球名將阿格西、莎拉傑西卡派克、伊莉莎白赫莉都是該牌粉絲,在台灣也廣受政商名流喜愛。但對照昨天美國廠商公布的問題車單,明星們愛用的嬰兒車統統是問題車款,震驚市場。

Below are screen shots from the local news:





I can't help but wonder if Celebrity Worship Syndrome is worse in Taiwan or U.S.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blueberry Muffins

Friends of ours invited us to their home for an American-style brunch: waffles, bagels, and omelets. Since I didn't want to go empty-handed, I baked a dozen blueberry muffins.




Muffins are quite easy and fast to make. I typically use the recipe in the Gourmet Cookbook: mix egg, egg yolk, melted butter, and milk with flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and blueberries; distribute equally in muffin pan; top with a mixture of butter, flour, and sugar; and bake in the oven at 375F for around 20 minutes.

Home baked muffins are far superior to the industrially produced ones in stores. Not only do they taste better you also get a kitchen full of wonderful baking smells.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Salon

This morning I took the kids out for a trip to Eslite bookstore in the Hsin Yi district of Taipei. On our way back Vera wanted a snack. Since it was close to lunch time, I didn't want to get her anything substantial and definitely no ice cream. While I was struggling to come up with a solution and almost ready to tell her to tough it out till lunch, I reminded myself Salon de thé de Joël Robuchon is open for business. The Salon is located on the third floor at Bellavita, a short walk from Eslite.

The Salon has all sorts of my favorite things: pain au chocolate, brioche, paris brest, macarons, millefeuille...etc. For this first trip we asked for six macarons to go: rose, chocolate, raspberry, mango, orange, and lemon. Vera finished one before we even got out of the store and thoroughly enjoyed it.


On our way back from Bellavita, we passed by a McDonald's. I couldn't help but ask Vera since she liked the macarons so much, does she now like Robu more than McDo? She said she still likes McDo more. I was slightly disappointed but not surprised. I tried my case again by telling her, the macaron (NT$80) she ate costs about the same as a Happy Meal (NT$89). She thought about it for a slightly longer moment, but still likes McDo more.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Lemon Cream Pops

It's November but the temperature is still in the 80's. Since it feels like the late summer, I decided to make some pops to cool me down.

Early in the summer, Maria bought some popsicle molds for Vera to make pops from fruit juice. Frozen fruit juice on a stick is too simple for me, so I decided to "kick it up a notch" by making the lemon cream pops from Pichet Ong's The Sweet Spot.

The recipe is not difficult: combine a cup of heavy cream, a cup of milk, 2/3 cup of sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, heat, cool, add the the juice and zest of 4 lemons, and pour into popsicle molds to freeze.


NT$90 for the cream, NT$20 for the milk, NT$130 for 4 lemons. Eating a pop on a warm November day: NT$24, not priceless.

Friday, November 6, 2009

27 to 2

The Yankees won, again, number 27. It's annoying, since I am a Mets fan. At least it is New York rather than Philadelphia. Furthermore, my wife's a Yankees fan, so she's happy. I am also glad for Chien Ming Wang. Even though he didn't contribute much to the team this year, he is still the first player from Taiwan to get a championship ring.

The more important question now is how can the Mets do better next year. I suggest signing both Chien Ming Wang and Roy Halladay. Maybe Jerry Manuel needs to change his jersey number from 53 to 3.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Grandpa

Today we held the funeral for my grandfather 趙諒公. He was a hundred years old, counted in the Chinese manner. He was a 才子, a renaissance man, who excelled in a variety of subjects including poetry, calligraphy, Chinese opera, and 圍棋. While his accomplishments in the cultural fields and his work are well known, what has not been mentioned much is his cooking skills.

He was an extremely talented and skilled home cook. While he only cooked occasionally, he enjoyed making dishes that required good techniques. He also liked experimenting with classical dishes and inventing new combinations. It is so unfortunate that none of us was able to convince him to write a cookbook, which would have been fascinating.

My grandfather also has a very good palette with very high standards. Family legend has it that he once threw a plate of food prepared by the maid out the window into the garden when he thought the food was not up to his standards. There are also stories about him pouring bowls of noodle soup onto the floor to show his displeasure with the quality of cooking. While his actions are a bit extreme, it was hard to argue with him when he was most likely correct and could show you how to do it.

My grandfather was a unique talent who not only lived a long life, but really enjoyed himself.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fan

Dyson has re-invented the fan, which has no blades. He is just too cool.

Monday, October 12, 2009

6 Billion

The economic slowdown has claimed another fashion victim; one of my favorite designers, Yohji Yamamoto, has filed for bankruptcy protection. Anyone out there with 6 billion yen to help?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Primo, Where's the Heat?

Recently Maria and I met some friends for lunch at Trattoria di Primo located at 台北市復興南路一段107巷14號1樓. Primo is actually more than just a restaurant, it has an area that sells cheese and wine. Since I was there to eat, I didn't really look too closely at the market. Base on a quick glance, the cheese selection seemed pretty good.

The space of the restaurant is quite pleasant, mostly white walls and table cloths with brown leather chairs. Primo is quite popular and the tables are spaced tightly, but not comfortably.

Primo's menu consists mainly of antipasti, pasta, pizza, and dolci, however, pizza seems to best thing to order. This is because near the entrance of the restaurant is an oven by a Japanese company that claims to be able to heat up to 600C. Primo's menu also emphasizes this hot oven and claims to bake Neapolitan-style pizza in around 90 seconds.

We ordered four different pizzas and the prices range around NT$300 to 400. While we waited for the pizzas to arrive I was busy drinking Pellegrino. The restaurant offers unlimited Pellegrino or Acqua Panna for NT$50 per person. This level of generosity was surprising since typically restaurants pad the bills with the mark-up on beverages.

When the pizzas arrived I was slightly disappointed. The pizzas' ingredients were good and the flavors were fine. The problem was the dough. The bottom was not crisp and charred enough.

When we left the restaurant we passed by the Japanese oven again. This time I noticed the temperature reading on the oven was around 298C. I suspect this was the root of the problem. Typically in order to produce a good Neapolitan-style pizza the oven needs to be much hotter. The oven at Lombardi's in New York City has a temperature of around 450C. The ovens at La Notizia and Da Michele in Napoli both exceed 500C. It seems Primo should know the importance of high heat since it is one of the first to use the Japanese oven capable of reaching 600C. What I don't understand is why Primo doesn't turn up the heat and make some better pizzas.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Back to School

I am back in school again, this time not as a student but as a teacher. Early this summer I was offered a part-time position at the School of Architecture in Shih Chien University to teach third year design studio. Yesterday was actually the first day of class. Classes started late for the third-year students because they were involved in a workshop with students and professors from Germany at the beginning of the semester. Now things are back to normal and I am at the school two afternoons a week.

I have twelve students in the studio. This semester we are exploring ideas about movement in architecture with a community athletic center. The project seeks to explore the relationship between the movements in the program and the space that contains them. Instead of an architecture that is about attractive appearance and structural stability, can a building’s form and space imply movements of its use and the dynamic qualities of the site?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Quote | Chairman

He is more popular than ever, the chairman is like Giorgio Armani.

- Mao Zedong memorabilia vendor in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Smoothie Towers

Just when I thought my earlier blog entry about 7-11's advertisement might be stretching the imagination a bit too far, the store posted a new one for smoothies that left no doubt in my mind about its architectural intentions.







































The smoothie is not packaged in a standard milk carton, but a more complex shape. The profile is very much like the Maybank Tower in Singapore.



Friday, September 18, 2009

Beatles

I was not big on the Beatles when I was young. It was probably because my parents listened to the Beatles when they were young. Furthermore, many famous Beatles albums were all recorded before I was born. When I was a teenager, I certainly didn't want to be caught listening to old popular songs.

Recently I am rediscovering the Beatles through the video game Rock Band. While some Beatles fans have complained that the game lacks many iconic tunes, I am very happy with the game. I like jamming with friends on "Here Comes the Sun" (1969), enjoy singing "Yellow Submarine" (1966) with Vera, and love playing the guitar solo on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (1968).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Arbitrage: Belgian Beer

I have written entries complaining about the prices of baby food, ice cream and steaks in Taipei being more expensive than in New York City. I have finally found something that's cheaper in Taipei - Belgian beer.

The City Super in Taipei sells 330ml bottle of Duvel at NT$120. The price in New York is around US$4.90 or NT$161; Chimay Blue is NT$130 in Taipei versus around US$5 or NT$164 in New York. Stella Artois is NT$53 in Taipei but around US$1.80 or NT$59 in New York.



While I am delighted Belgian beers are cheaper in Taipei than in New York, my happiness is dampened by the fact that Belgian beers are even cheaper in London - Duvel goes for around £1.69 (NT$91), Chimay costs around £1.80 (NT$97), and Stella Artois can be had for around £.90 (NT$48). I am still being jipped but at least not as much as I was in New York City.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Kindergarten

Vera started at Fuhsing kindergarten this week. So far she seems pretty happy with the school, teachers, and classmates. Fuhsing is actually where I went for kindergarten and elementary school. However, the school is very different now.

Fuhsing has K to 12 now instead of K to 9 when I was there. The school is still located at the same place, but the campus is completely different with all new buildings, certainly a vast improvement. The school now has bilingual education starting in first grade. Even the kindergarten has English classes. The school now provides breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack, which is much easier for the parents. When I was in elementary school, I had to bring lunch in a metal bento box. Fuhsing has even modified the school logo.

What hasn't changed is the color of the uniforms for kindergarten and elementary school. It is still green and white; not my favorite color combination in clothes.


At least the uniforms are now made of all cotton, there used to be quite a bit of polyester.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Quote | Place

A beautiful place is better than a bad one.

- Miuccia Prada on spending money on architecture.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

無中生有

A few weeks ago, we along with our friends visited the Museum of Contemporay Art in Taipei to see the exhibition 無中生有.


The exhibition was a collaboration between the calligrapher 董陽孜 and several architects. Each architect created an installation that drew inspiration from the calligraphy. It was an interesting show. Below are three of the installations.

Architect 阮慶岳 created a skeletal house with real and fake plants.


The design actually reminded me of Robert Venturi's Franklin Court project in Philadelphia.


Architect 簡學義 designed a minimal space where two opposing walls were lined with white lights. A small hole was cut on each of those two walls to allow images to be projected into the space. Visitors were handed fans to catch the images.


I quite liked the idea but I wished there were more than two holes; it would have been more dynamic if the images moved around in the space.

The installation that I liked the best was by 陳瑞憲. He created an abstract landscape that consisted of a white "mountain" and a black "lake". The lake was actually a giant inkwell.


On one side of the inkwell were calligraphies by 董陽孜 and on the other side was a long table and a bench for visitors to practice their own calligraphy. The space was not only very dramatic but also interactive.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Information Overload

Recently due to the Typhoon Morakot, I would watch a few minutes of the local morning news on television before I leave for work. The news programs are prime examples of information overload. Below is a shot of the morning news on the TVBS news channel.


I can count ten different things on the screen at the same time: 1. vertical scroll; 2. anchor woman presenting a story that has nothing to do with the headlines or the scrolls; 3. name of the show; 4. channel logo; 5. headline of a local newspaper; 6. time; 7. stock market index; 8. upper horizontal scroll; 9. bottom horizontal scroll; and 10. headline of another local newspaper. Each of the 10 pieces of information mentioned above have nothing to do with each other.

This bombardment of information has become the norm. Below is a screen shot of the program on another news channel.



Similar to the other channel, this one has ten different things going on at the same time as well: 1. vertical scroll; 2. upper headline; 3. website for viewers to upload images; 4. anchor woman presenting a story; 5. name of the channel; 6. bottom horizontal scroll; 7. lower headline; 8. picture of a story that is different from the two headlines and what the anchor was presenting; 9. weather; 10. time.

It is as if the networks believe if they don't present all this information at once, the viewers will lose patience and switch channels. Or perhaps, television news programs have been influenced by the way information is distributed on the internet. Presenting all the information at once has made the news program on television incoherent and lacking any emphasis and focus. What makes things worse is most of the time there actually aren't too much news to report in Taiwan, therefore, the news program will simply repeat all the information every half hour or so.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quote | Flimsies

"We can't cater to flimsies."

- Julia Child, on not dumbing down her Mastering the Art of French Cooking to people who are unserious about food.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Artsy Sandwich

7-Eleven's ads for the NT$39 breakfast continue to fascinate me. I don't know who is the art director for these ads, but they keep reminding me of works of art or design. The previous ad conjured up Le Corbusier's church. Below is the current ad for the breakfast sandwich.


The arrangement of the ham and the lettuce formed by layers of sheets with voids in between is very similar to the recent work by Tara Donovan at the Lever House in New York City.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Quote | Money

"If you don’t care about the money, the money gets jealous.

- Ron Arad in a conversation with students.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Aftermath of Morakot

In three days, Typhoon Morakot dumped almost three meters of rain in parts of Taiwan, which is approximately the average rain fall for the whole year. Scores of bridges and roads were destroyed. Several villages were completely wiped out by the mud slide, thousands of people are now homeless, and hundreds of people are dead, many buried alive.

The local news coverage of the aftermath of the typhoon has been quite frantic and piecemeal. For the past few days I had a hard time comprehending the scale of the disaster. It was only when Taiwan's Center for Space and Remote Sensing Research (中央大學太空遙測中心) released the satellite images of some of the affected area that I finally had a better grasp of the disaster areas.

Below is a before and after image of 太麻里鄉 (Taimali Township) in 台東 (Taitung) that I put together to show the impact of the typhoon. The image on the left is taken from Google map, which is before the typhoon. The image on the right is a satellite image taken on August 12, 2009. The width of the small river expanded three to four times and engulfed farmlands and houses.


The reconstruction of many parts of Taiwan is expected to take years and some of the villages destroyed may be gone forever.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Five Minus Two

Architect Charles Gwathmey died on August 3, 2009 at the age of 71. I didn't know Gwathmey (Charlie as he was commonly known) personally and didn't work at his office; some of my former bosses and friends worked at Gwathmey & Siegel. Nevertheless Gwathmey has left strong impressions on me.

The first time I encountered Gwathmey was through his work, namely Whig Hall at Princeton University when I was a freshman there. Whig Hall is one of a pair of identical neoclassical buildings situated just behind Nassau Hall. In 1969 a fire destroyed all but the exterior of Whig Hall. Gwathmey was hired to renovate the building. Instead of simply restoring the building he carved out a side of the building and inserted several white volumes in the Corbusian language.


The combination of modernist and classical language makes Whig Hall a very unique building, not only as a standout on the more classically oriented campus of Princeton, but a prime example of how classical buildings can be transformed and enhanced.

The second time I encountered Gwathmey was also during my freshman year in college. A businessman in Taipei, Mr. Chen, commissioned Gwathmey to design a house for his family and my father was asked to be the associate architect. When my father was in New York to meet with Gwathmey to discuss the design, I went with him. At that time, I had not decided to study architecture, but I was curious to see Gwathmey's design and his office. Gwathmey's office was actually the first mid-size architectural office in New York I ever visited. The firm is located near the western edge of Manhattan in a converted industrial loft. My first impression of Gwathmey was he didn't fit my image of an architect that was formed from photographs in books and magazines. Instead of a suit and a tie, Gwathmey was dressed in a white Ralph Lauren polo shirt with blue jeans. He was very athletic-looking with broad shoulders. The visit with Gwathmey and seeing his office established a new image of an architect in my mind.

The Chen House was a unique project in Gwathmey's portfolio. Because of requirements in the program and zoning, it has four levels of basement and five-levels above grade. It is like a typical large Gwathmey house but turned ninety degrees vertically. The project allowed Gwathmey to investigate new spatial relationships. I still remember vividly how excited Gwathmey was when he was describing the atrium with the spiral stairs. It is unfortunate the house was never built and remains as one of Gwathmey's more interesting projects.


Gwathmey was a member of the New York Five and he established his reputation very early in the 1960's when he was still in his 20's. He is one of the very few architects in the world where his earliest works, namely the house and studio for his parents in Long Island, remain as his masterpiece. In his long career he produced a few questionable designs, such as the apartment tower at Astor Place in New York City. Nevertheless, he created many memorable designs ranging from educational buildings, museums, office interiors, and residential buildings. His design of tableware, the Tuxedo collection, for Swid Powell remains a favorite of mine. In fact I still use the mug from the collection for my coffee every morning.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Morakot

Today is the first typhoon day for Vera. All the schools and offices in Taipei are closed due to the arrival of typhoon Morakot; the name means emerald in Thai.


Despite the typhoon, many restaurants remain open for business; they all say they are 風雨無阻.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bib Gourmand Dessert

A friend of ours gave us a few boxes of blueberries - a very nice gift since they are expensive and I love to eat them. After a couple days of eating blueberries without anything, I thought maybe I should try to do something with them. I used to bake blueberry muffins for breakfast, but this time I wanted to make a dessert. The recipe I used is in Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: blueberries with lime sugar. This was quite easy to make, just some lime zest confit, lime juice, mint, and sugar tossed with blueberries. A few simple ingredients mixed together created a dish that was sweet, sour, and bitter. It was delicious.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Three-Star Desserts

A few weeks ago, I saw an article in the local newspaper that said Philippe Rigollot, the pastry chef of the three-star restaurant Maison Pic was coming to Taipei for a cooking class at the Sherwood Hotel. While I am very interested to learn about cooking, I actually have never attended a cooking class. Maria offered to pay for the class as my birthday gift and I happily accepted. The price for the class was NT$2500 and included lunch at the Italian restaurant at the hotel.

Maison Pic is located in Valence, France, just south of Lyon. The chef at the restaurant is Anne-Sophie Pic whose grandfather was a 3-star chef, and so was her father. When her father passed away in 1992, the restaurant lost a star. In 2007 she regained the third star and is now one of the few female 3-star chefs in the world. Rigollot has been the pastry chef at Maison Pic since 2000. Besides the work at the restaurant, he was part of the team that won the pastry world championship in 2005. In 2007 he was awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France; he gets to wear the red, white, and blue stripes on the collar of his chef jacket. In short he is one of the best pastry chefs in the world.

The class was held at a banquette room on the second floor of the Hotel. There were roughly twenty or so participants. As we entered the room each of us was given a package with the recipes. We were also handed a chef jacket and an apron to put on, which was a bit strange because we were not going to do any cooking. We mainly just sat on the rows of chairs in front of a table and watched Rigollot prepare the desserts.

The theme of the class was chestnut because the class was partly sponsored by Imbert, a French brand that specializes in chestnut products. Rigollot demonstrated two recipes: macaron marron and tarte marron framboise.

I was eager to see how Rigollot makes the macarons. I have made them a few times but never with much success. My batter was always a bit too soft and runny and I could never get the right chewiness in the macarcon. Rigollot’s recipe uses TPT or tant pour tant, a mixture of equal parts almond powder and icing sugar. Instead of French Meringue he uses Italian Meringue, which is more stable. His batter was not runny, more a lava-like consistency. I was surprised to find that he didn’t use a baking tray, simply a silpat on oven baking racks. He piped the batter on to the silpat like a machine, fast and evenly.


After piping out the batter, he tapped the rack on the counter to release any air bubbles and let the macarons rest for around 15 minutes, then they went into the oven.

While the macarons were baking, Rigollot made the filling. This was relatively easy, just involved using the Imbert chestnut products and mixing them up for around 5 minutes on the stand mixer. When the macarons were ready, Rigollot piped the filling and made the sandwich cookies. To present the macarons, he placed them vertically on a thin sheet of chocolate, using a bit of chestnut paste as glue. He then put a small piece of chestnut on top of each macaron and also a little piece of gold leaf for brightness.



For the raspberry tart, Rigollot didn’t demonstrate the whole process from start to finish. I suppose the basic part of making a tart shell and the filling is relatively straightforward that it didn’t need to be shown. Rigollot first demonstrated how to make the confit framboise. He then showed how to make the mousse marron framboise. The ingredients were mixed and spread into a spherical mold to be chilled. He brought out some that were pre-made and chilled and then sprayed the balls with red food coloring. He then showed how to construct the tart by spreading the confit on the tart filling, placing the ball in the center, which was surrounded by a ring of fresh raspberry dusted with powdered sugar.


The tart was finished off with a small piece of chestnut and raspberry on the top and accented again by a small piece of gold leaf.



After the class was over, Rigollot chatted with the participants and took pictures with everyone. He signed the recipe for me. We were issued certificates for the completion of the class. Since he didn’t speak English, I had to resort to my broken French to ask some questions. He was very patient and very engaging.


Lunch took place at the Italian restaurant, Toscana, on the ground floor of the Hotel. Lunch consists of the antipasto/salad bar and a soup, followed by the two desserts that Rigollot made. The mouse on the raspberry tart was amazing, great texture and flavor. The macaron was textbook perfect with “foot”, a crust like rings on the flat sides in contact with the filling. The outer shell is thin like an eggshell with a soft meringue-like inside.

While this was an expensive way to spend three and half hours, it was a memorable experience. It was a pleasure to watch Rigollot work. He had great techniques, and I suspected he probably could do some of these things with his eyes closed. There was no extra motion, no dripping or splatter. It was very efficient and extremely clean. The way he constructed the dessert was very much like an artist about visual composition through different geometries, colors, and textures.


Now I just hope I can recreate the two desserts at home.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Quote | Dancing

"It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive."

- Merce Cunningham on dancing. Cunningham died on July 26, 2009 at the age of 90.

Monday, July 27, 2009

World Not Interested

The World Games 2009 concluded in Kaohsiung last night. The eleven-day event went smoothly and was quite a success - a great achievement for the city of Kaohsiung and Taiwan. Taiwan won a total of 24 medals and ranked seventh in the standings. The main stadium by Toyo Ito is very beautiful, at least from television (I haven't seen the building in person yet). The fireworks in both the opening and closing ceremonies were very nicely done.

The only thing I find to be very strange about the World Games is the almost complete lack of coverage in some media. For instance, a search for reports on the World Games on the website of The New York Times shows only four reports in the last 30 days, three of which are about Ito's stadium.


A similar search on Wall Street Journal's website shows only four reports as well.


There are even less reports on the World Games in UK's London Times and Guardian. While the media in Taiwan cannot get enough of the World Games, the rest of the world doesn't seem too interested.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sonoma 焱

A good friend of mine recently came from Hong Kong to visit me. I asked him where he would like to go for dinner. He said a friend of his recommended that he try the steakhouse Sonoma 焱 because the friend believes the steaks at the restaurant are better than any of the steakhouses in Hong Kong. I was a bit surprised to hear that so I thought why not go and find out.

There are three branches of Sonoma and the one we went to is located on 敦化南路2段9號1樓. The restaurant is not large, roughly 70 some seats with an open kitchen at the back. There are a few menus to choose from, a la carte, 4 course prix fixe, and a wagyu tasting menu. My friend ordered a la carte: crab cakes, grilled wagyu strip steak, and chocolate dessert. I tried the wagyu tasting menu which costs NT$2800: lobster tail, mushroom cappuccino, salad, grilled wagyu strip steak, and chocolate dessert.

We were first served some warm bread, which was not bad with a decent crust. There were also some marinated olives on the table, but they were just way too sweet.

I didn't taste my friend's crab cakes, so I can't comment on that dish. My friend wanted the steak to be medium well (don't ask me why), but the steak arrived medium rare to medium. Maybe the chef was reluctant to cook a the nice piece of meat to medium well. Nevertheless, the steak was not cooked to the right temperature.

As for my dishes, the lobster dish had decent flavors, but the caviar on the lobster tail wasn't that good. The mushroom cappuccino reminded me of one of Gordon Ramsay's signature dishes: white bean cappuccino. Maybe it was the word cappuccino. In any event, I would have preferred the mushroom soup to be a bit creamier. It was a bit thin for my taste. Strangely the soup was served with a small spoon, almost like a coffee spoon, which made drinking the soup a bit tiresome. The salad was quite fresh, but I wished the dressing had a bit more acidity. My steak was nicely grilled and quite flavorful. It was a good piece of red meat, but it could have been seasoned more aggressively. I wasn't too keen on the sauce, which was a bit too reduced. The dessert at the end was a molten chocolate cake. This was essentially like Jean Georges signature dessert. Sonoma's version was executed well with good flavor. My only complaint is that the cake and the accompanying ice cream was pathetically small. I would think the restaurant can be a bit more generous with the portion of the dessert, considering the total price they are charging.

The service was quite good, my only quip is that since my friend and I had different number of courses, they could have brought out an empty plate for my friend when I was having the extra course, so he didn't have to stare at the table cloth and might have shared some of my courses.

Overall, the meal was decent. The ingredients were good and fresh. I asked my friend if Sonoma was indeed better than all the steakhouses in HK, he said no.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Here's the Beef

Maria wanted steak for dinner, which meant an expensive dinner. A steak in the U.S. is already a relatively pricey ingredient, however, in Taipei the prices are even higher. Good steaks are available only in some of the more western-oriented supermarkets. I bought the steaks at City Super, a supermarket originally from Hong Kong, located at the basement of a Sogo department store. There are many imported beef, mainly from the U.S. and Australia, to choose from. I picked a cheaper cut, U.S. prime ribeye, which goes for NT$200 per 100 gram, or roughly US$28 per pound. This is quite a premium to pay for a steak since a similar cut at Fresh Direct in NY costs around US$17 per pound.

Besides the price, another problem with buying steaks in Taipei is the lack of varieties. The supermarkets mostly just have a few cuts, namely, ribeye, fillet, strip, and sirloin. They don't carry the cheaper cuts that I like to buy, such as skirt, hanger, brisket, or flank.

As for the cuts that are available, the steak in the supermarkets do not come with bones, especially the ones from the U.S. Taiwan only allows boneless steak to be imported from the U.S. because of concerns for BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) or Mad Cow disease. Therefore, while I typically like to buy a bone-in ribeye, because I think the flavor is better, I have to settle for boneless steaks.

Cooking an expensive ingredient at home always seems to be a bit tricky. If a mistake is made there isn't anyone else to blame, the dish can't be sent back like in a restaurant; it is really just like throwing money into the trash bin. To cook the ribeye steaks I decided to follow Alain Ducasse's advice. Instead of using the oven or broiler, I cooked the steaks on top of the stove to have better control. I did not use super high heat. I seared the steaks first and later added butter and garlic and then constantly basted the meat until they are cooked to the right temperature. Then I let the steak rest for half of the time it took to cook.

In short the steaks were quite delicious. Although they are expensive, it is an indulgence worth having every so often.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Quote | Expensive

"My houses are expensive to build, my fees are outrageous, and I’m a prima donna."

- Architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen in a conversation with a client.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Five on Fourth

Vera turned five today. We invited a few of her friends over to our house for a little party. Since I wasn't going to entertain the kids myself, Maria asked Vera's art teacher to come to do a class. The theme of the class was party food. The teacher first read the kids a story and then taught them how to make party food with paper clay.



About half an hour or so later the kids created some "food".


I made some food as well because I was in charge of making the birthday cake. Ever since I bought Dorie Greenspan's book, Vera wanted me to make the cake on the cover.


I always told her I would make it for her birthday, therefore I had to do it today. The cake was not difficult to make but required a couple of components. I baked the chocolate layers the night before and assembled the cake this morning. Assembling the cake was a bit like building an architectural model.



The kids seemed to enjoy the cake.


Happy Birthday Vera!