Michelin-starred chefs are pouring into Taiwan these days, and increasingly they are doing more than just popping into town on a consultant gig or for a couple of weeks as a guest chef. Following the path pioneered with the opening of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the swank Taipei Bellavita mall in 2009, Igor Macchia, chef and owner of the one-Michelin-star La Credenza in Italy, is in Taiwan to supervise the opening of La Festa at the Grand Victoria Hotel (維多麗亞酒店).
La Festa is the first Italian restaurant opened by a Michelin-starred chef in Taiwan. It is a chance for Taiwanese to enjoy the very best of contemporary Italian cuisine without having to buy an airplane ticket to Europe, says Macchia, who has traveled to Taiwan four times since a first visit here two years ago as a guest chef at Far Eastern Plaza Hotel’s (台北遠東大飯店) Marco Polo restaurant.
Macchia has been closely linked with the creation of La Festa since its inception, and will bring over many of his signature dishes from La Credenza. He has also created some new dishes that he believes will appeal to his Asian patrons.
Italian restaurants are hardly a rarity in Taipei these days, but Macchia believes that there is still a big market for creative Italian cuisine.
“We want to show the personality of a chef,” he says. “I think in my food you can find my personality. When you go to a fine dining restaurant you are looking for something different, not just traditional food ... We start for sure from the root of the Italian food, but then from there we change a little bit, and we make something different.”
Macchia’s signature dishes play with tradition, as well as delighting in some of the newfangled equipment of the modern professional kitchen. Dishes such as his agnolotti del plin, rarely found outside Macchia’s native area of Piedmont, harks back to the tradition of making sure all scraps of food are put to good use, and the result is a truly delicious plate of meat dumplings, served dry on a napkin and infused with the primal flavors of pasta and cheese. Macchia says that he believes Taiwanese patrons have a great curiosity to try new things, so that it was not necessary to make many changes when introducing dishes from his restaurant in Italy.
Italian food, he said, is now “past the pizza and tomato stage and we are now many other things, so for sure I know the basis of Italian food. I really like to make it and eat it, but I also want to do something different, and I want people to feel my idea.”
His ideas include a light and refreshing tiramisu that abjures the traditional ingredient of mascarpone and is served with a combination of a milk foam and a coffee foam injected into the cake tableside; there’s also calamari e gamberi, a traditional Italian finger food of deep fried squid, which is served with a batter of crunchy polenta and an Asian-inspired ginger sauce. Macchia says that Italian food itself was undergoing many changes these days, and his cuisine reflects this search for new ideas.
Macchia has found inspiration from local ingredients, particularly some top-quality salad greens and local pork from small producers. Macchia told the Taipei Times that the pork used at La Festa was from pigs fed on yogurt with active bacteria, which is said to produce meat of the highest quality.