Roasted Sea Bass, Cioppino
Tomato mozzarella salad, chive
and basil oil
Top of ONE (46F), IN Restaurant (28F)
A culinary magician brings Molecular Gastronomy to Taichung
By Douglas Habecker
Translated by Ann Lee
532, YingCai (Ying Tsai) Rd
Hours: Top of ONE, IN Restaurant: 11:30 am-2 pm, 6-9:30 pm
Credit cards accepted. 10% service charge.
Free parking for diners.
Methyl cellulose, Maltodextrin, Xanthan Gum, Liquid Nitrogen, Nitrous Oxide, Calcium Chloride and Sodium Alginate....While it all sounds like a shopping list for a chemist's lab, these are in fact all common ingredients used in the fascinating, relatively-new field of "molecular gastronomy". Don't be alarmed, however; as Hotel ONE Executive Sous Chef Nicholas Pena-Alvarez explains, it's all very natural. Best of all, it's delicious.
The Vancouver native, who labels himself "Canadian-Spanish-British" due to his mixed heritage, has only been in Taichung about a month but is already hard at work revamping the modern Chinese menu at the 46th-floor Top of ONE restaurant with his own extremely creative touches. Despite his youthful 30 years, he has accumulated a very impressive resume of high kitchen positions, from top-ranked restaurants in Spain and the Royal Carribbean Cruise Lines to earlier stints as Chef De Cuisine at The Landis Taipei and, most recently, as Executive Sous Chef at The Venetian Resort & Casino Macao.
Barely introduced to Taiwan, molecular gastronomy is about understanding the science of food, right down to the molecular level, and learning how to combine naturally occurring chemicals in cooking, explains the Pena-Alvarez, who studied with two pioneers in the field--Ferran Adria at El Bulli in Roses, Madrid, and Juan Mari Arzak of Restaurante Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain. For example, mozzarella cheese can be pureed with methocellulose and spread out to create cheese slices. Super-cold liquid nitrogen is used at the tableside to make the freshest, most flavorful ice cream within a few seconds. Oxymoronic hot ice cream is also truly possible. An understanding of the correlation between scent and taste has chefs spritzing the air with a lemon essence just before diners savor a sorbet. Caviar and white chocolate ("One of the best things I've ever eaten," says the chef) are an ideal match, as it was found they shared three chemical elements, leading to the possibility of other food pairings based on elemental compositions.
Describing all this as a culinary "magic show" of sorts, Pena-Alvarez, who exudes a bit of the playful maverick, says that he is in the process of applying these principles to Chinese cuisine; diners eager for a taste should have their chance in the next couple months. The transformation of Top of ONE's already-excellent menu will include lighter, less overpowering flavors and sauces that will still offer the tastes that local diners know.
The chef also oversees the 28th-floor IN Restaurant, with monthly themed menus on the way, beginning with April's "Modern Brasserie" theme that will see mostly-Western cuisine paired with interesting, petite Japanese-style sectional presentation, plus abstract flavor combinations. Daily semi-buffet lunches (a main course plus buffet) include the weekday Business Lunch (NT$450-700) and Weekend Lunch (NT$650-800). For dinner, there are five-course full set meals (NT$650-900).
The ethnic origins of the cuisine he's having fun with mean little to Pena-Alvarez, who says he doesn't categorize food by country. His unique multinational background, diverse global experience and willingness to conduct creative kitchen experiments means that diners can anticipate more culinary "magic shows" in the months ahead.