Celebrity chefs are all the rage as restaurants seek news ways to attract increasingly finicky diners looking for something different. Starting today until April 1, the Bel Air restaurant will be hosting an Olympic medalist -- that is, a winner in the prestigious Culinary Olympics, a four-yearly event held in Erfurt, Germany.
Chef Neil Porter, who hails from Vancouver, attributes his success in this and many other culinary competitions, to his particular ability at presentation. And there is no doubt that the special menu organized for Porter's sojourn in Taiwan is a feast for the eyes, as well as the taste buds.
The vibrancy of the colors is the first thing that you notice when one of Porter's creations is put before you, that and the sensitivity to composition. Even in seemingly simple dishes like pea soup (NT$360), Porter is able to bring about a new dimension. Rather than the dark murky green the conventionally characterizes this dish, Porter's soup is a vibrant pea green. This effect is achieved through a process of separation and cooling to keep the colors of the peas from darkening during cooking. The flavor, with its hints of ham hock, is also perfectly delicious.
Porter says his inspiration has come from the multiculturalism of Vancouver and from his own travels, and he draws flavors from many sources, often combining seeming incompatible items to surprising effect. Most notable in the current menu is the use of blue cheese, which is incorporated into a potato pave served with braised shoulder of lamb (NT$960) and more boldly still, into a Stilton cheesecake with rhubarb compote. Food at its best should have some element of the unexpected, and here the flavor of the cheese provides a wonderful twist to familiar themes.
Emphasizing natural textures and flavors is another area in which Porter excels. His shoulder of lamb manages to be firm yet tender at the same time, without the stringiness that is often associated with rare meat. This he attributes to cooking the meat for over 20 hours, tightly packed over a low heat, so that it holds all its juices.
For those who take a delight in food as both a visual and gastronomic experience, Porter's menu at the Bel Air is certainly recommended.