by James Lo
(Read first: Michelin star-studded summit in Taiwan serves up mouthwatering cuisine)
Taichung City native Kai Ho is a classically trained Chinese chef whose restaurant Taïrroir was recently awarded a single Michelin star. The name Taïrroir reflects Ho’s personal culinary ideals, blending the word Taiwan with the French Terroir, a term incorporating land, environment and ambiance.
It also epitomizes Ho’s culinary style of cuisine, which takes inspiration from French plating and gastronomy fused with Chinese-based flavors. A signature dish best describing this style is the Chinese Chicken Wellington, an early creation of Ho’s.
“When I first opened, I made this Beef Wellington dish using tofu skin instead of puff pastry, and chicken instead of beef,” Ho told Taiwan Scene. “I also replaced mushroom with preserved potherb mustard as the filling.”
Ho comes from humble beginnings. As a child growing up in Taichung, Ho and his cousin often accompanied his grandfather to various gatherings and banquets, where he was introduced to a plethora of Chinese cuisines at a very early age. (Read more: Taichung, city on the move.)
“I didn’t have a cliché culinary upbringing,” Ho said, laughing. “Usually, a chef will tell you that they were inspired by their grandmother. Not me! My grandmother was a bad cook! Instead, it was my grandfather’s social events that got me into food.”
But it was a TV cooking show that really cemented Ho’s career path.
“I was captivated by this show’s narrator. I remember thinking at one point this is what I want to do with my life!”
Having set his mind on a culinary career, Ho opted for vocational school over college. His decision would ultimately prove a good one, as he would go on to win one of Taiwan’s most prestigious cooking competitions at the tender age of 17.
A self-proclaimed lover of visual aesthetics, Ho discovered his culinary soulmate in the stunning visual beauty of French cuisine. Ho dove head-first into French culinary tradition, learning in prestigious restaurants in Singapore from chefs such as Guy Savoy and Julien Royer. It was from these experiences that Ho developed his current style.
“My current status is as a Taiwanese-French chef,” Ho said, “but eventually I’ll go back to more classical Chinese styles. I especially love the blending of the two.”
According to Ho, inducing a western philosophy into Taiwanese-Chinese cuisine is a key catalyst that will elevate the international status of Taiwan’s culinary scene.”
Ho said that while Chinese cuisine is both profound and historical, the current form adopted in Taiwan is overly systematic. (Read more: Seven Taiwan Night Markets Everyone Needs to Visit)
“Most people here value quantity over quality, leading to the belief that cooking is more a vocation rather than an art form,”
Ho told Taiwan Scene, adding that introducing a more western culinary perspective to patrons and chefs alike would lead to mutually beneficial growth for all involved.
When initially awarded the Michelin star, Chef Ho’s first reaction was surprised.
“When I first I got the email, my reaction was is this for real?”
Naturally, the award has made Taïrroir a top destination for gourmands in Taiwan. Chef Ho takes it in stride.
“In my mind, the most important thing with Taïrroir was to create an amazing restaurant with visually appealing ambiance, and to make dishes using local ingredients that anyone who tasted would remember for a lifetime.”
Though he’s clearly accomplished this goal, Chef Ho plans to continue his mission to elevate the status of Taiwan’s culinary scene in the years to come.