Taipei is certainly not short of cake shops, but there is a great gulf of technical skill and inherited tradition that separates what Ron Lin (林廷隆), director of the Taiwan Gateaux Association (台灣蛋糕協會), describes dismissively as “sweets,” and the true art of the pastry chef. While sweets still dominate the shelves, Taiwan has recently seen a remarkable growth in shops selling high-quality French pastries, one of the earliest being the Le Bouquet (繽紛蛋糕房) patisserie of the Ambassador Hotel, which was followed by a host of boutique operations such as Taipei’s 15eme Patisserie (15區法式烘焙) and Boite de Bijou (珠寶盒法式點心坊), and chains such as Cafe 85℃ (85℃咖啡蛋糕烘焙專賣店). A more sophisticated public wants to move on from Black Forest gateau and tiramisu to more creative concoctions. The Taiwan Cake Show (台灣蛋糕博覽會), which will be held this weekend, aims to satisfy that demand.
At the stylish offices of the Taiwan Gateaux Association, Lin pulls up images from a laptop and creates a slide show of gem-like creations, many of them standards of the French patisserie as well as modern variations made by local chefs such as Jen Chun-jung (簡純榮), who helped establish the Ambassador’s Le Bouquet. Some of the cakes, with their elaborate fretwork of chocolate and sugar, are works of edible art. The creation of such cakes will be the center piece of the Taiwan Cake Show, as local chefs compete for the 7th Taiwan Gateaux Skills Trophy (台灣GATEAUX盃蛋糕技藝競賽). The elaborate structures, which in the case of sugar sculptures, might stand as high as 80cm, are architectural in their complexity, and seem a very long way indeed from the world of afternoon coffee and cakes.
What: Taiwan Cake Show (台灣蛋糕博覽會)
When: Today and Sunday, 10am to 6pm
Where: Y17 (台北市青少年育樂中心), located at 17, Renai Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市仁愛路一段17號)
On the Net: www.cake123.com.tw
“Why do we need this sort of thing?” Lin asked rhetorically. “It’s all about improving skills. To achieve this level in their art, they must research new materials and techniques, and this is a spur for the development of new products. Only then will we have innovation. ... Ultimately for the consumer, it means being able to taste something more than the same old standards.”
In order to spur innovation and develop skills, the Taiwan Gateaux Association will be bringing over instructors from the Ecole de Patisserie de Tokyo (東京制菓學校) to conduct demonstrations during the show. “Many of Taiwan’s pastry chefs have come up through an apprenticeship system. They have never had the chance to really study at a pastry school. ... With the new generation, more and more are going to study overseas, and with more students, there will be a higher level of competition,” Lin said.
Wu En-tau (吳恩陶), the assistant pastry chef at Le Bouquet who has worked with the French-trained Chef Jen since the patisserie’s creation, said the main challenge was to create cakes that would be deemed worthy of the high price tags placed on them. “At Le Bouquet, we set out to create a really high-end product, so that for any particular kind of cake, we seek to find ways of making it worth the (high) price that the customer pays for it. Great emphasis is placed on technique and in incorporating different layers. The number of ingredients we use is much larger than for most high street bakeries, and then great emphasis is also placed on ornamentation,” he said.
Wu is a member of the new generation of chefs who have undergone formal training in the culinary arts. The location of choice for most aspiring Taiwanese patissiers is Japan. “The profession for this kind of baking is simply too small in Taiwan,” Lin said. The Taiwan Gateaux Skills Trophy is an attempt to foster competitiveness among local chefs, but though Taiwanese chefs have made the occasional splash in international competition, Lin said that the overall standard still has a long way to go.