Wendel’s Bakery and Bistro, since it was first established in 1999 on Taipei’s Zhongshan North Road (中山北路) Sec 6, has become something of an institution both for foreign and local residents of the city. It is one of only a handful of foreign run and owned restaurants with such deep roots in Taiwan, but as Michael Wendel is also keen to point out, these roots extend all the way back to Germany and the family bakery that opened in 1932. This unusual combination of close ties with the culinary tradition of his home, and his strong bonds with the local community will be celebrated in Essence and Heritage of Culinary Art, an activity organized by the Chinese Gourmet Association (中華美食交流協會) to be held on Friday.
Essence and Heritage of Culinary Art is a panel discussion and cooking demonstration that will feature five pairs of chefs, each of which represent a parent and child transition of culinary art across two generations. Michael Wendel, who will be joined by his father Walter Wendel as one of these five pairs, will celebrate a passing on and a relocation of his family’s culinary tradition.
Carl Lin (林俊鴻), deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Gourmet Association told the Taipei Times in a telephone interview earlier this week that they had selected Wendel in part because of his international reputation and recognized presence in Taiwan, but also, quite simply “because it is such a great story.”
“Through Michael’s participation in this event, we also hope that other international chefs will realize that Taiwan is a great place to develop their career … Taiwan on the whole is very accepting of foreign traditions and culture, and if they can find the right course, Taiwan offers great potential.”
The Taipei Times caught up with Michael Wendel at his new bistro located in the Neihu Science Park, a venture that represents a new departure and an expansion of his vision, introducing many new dishes, while at the same time cementing an authentic German culinary standard in Taiwan.
“There are quite a few German restaurants in Taipei,” Wendel said, “but this is the only one that is owned and run by a German from the food industry. Many of the other German restaurants are run by people not from the industry, but are opened by people who have come here with a trading company and fallen in love with this country, and have then opened a restaurant to stay here. In Taiwan there is no requirement to obtain certification to be a master in your field (for a chef), so many people like this can open a restaurant. Most of these restaurants are quite home style, and most have a Taiwanese touch to the food. Nobody dares to be as authentic as we are, because this is not easy.”
Wendel recalls the early days of running his bakery in Tianmu, when customers would complain about his bread because it was not soft and sweet as the imitation western breads they were used to.
When Wendel opened his bakery, he said he faced considerable difficulty introducing authentic German bread to Taiwanese clientele. “It was especially with the German breads. There were some bakeries that were making this at that time. They called it German bread but this was totally nonsense. So we had to spend a lot of time educating our customers and we are still carrying on with this.”
Wendel believes there is a burden on the chef to provide an authentic product. “Our bread is still made in a very traditional way. Some of the bread we make uses the recipe from my grandfather [also a master baker] … And it is not just educating the customers, but also the staff. They would think in the beginning that the bread was too hard, and would tell me the customers would complain: the bread was hard, was not sweet and had no stuffing inside. The first six years or so was very difficult, but now more and more customers appreciate what we do.”