Sat, Jul 20, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Set the table for retirement

Senior home cooks at Shi Yi restaurant are reinventing what old age looks like, one meal at a time

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

A refined take on loofah stir-fried with clams is served at Shi Yi.

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

At 64-years-old, Tai Hsueh-li (戴學禮) has more energy than most people half his age.

Last Sunday evening, he was vigorously smashing cucumbers and shredding Shandong-style roast chicken for his signature dish at yet another sold-out dinner.

Tai is not a professional chef. He’s a lifelong home cook with a penchant for garlic. He’s also a first-time borough warden, having been elected to Tongfeng District (同風) in his native Keelung last year.

And he’s a retiree — although all the usual connotations of that are dispelled by his many pursuits.

At Shi Yi (食憶), which translates to “memories of food,” retired, self-taught home cooks like Tai are creating feasts inspired by homemade family meals.

The restaurant is the brainchild of former fashion marketer Cherry Chen (陳映璇), 33. It opened in August last year, after Chen’s own parents retired and she was confronted with the question of how retirees spend their time.

A restaurant with a social purpose, Shi Yi is setting an appetizing example for a new approach to retirement.

SENIOR LIFESTYLES

Taiwan officially entered the international club of aged societies last year, when the proportion of citizens aged 65 and above passed the 14 percent threshhold. In 2017, life expectancy hit a high of 80.4 years, against the nation’s mandatory retirement age of 65.

Accompanying these demographic shifts is a change in the conversation around senior citizens.

“In the past when we talked about seniors, we’d talk about taking care of them,” Chen says. “Now when we talk about seniors, we talk about activating manpower.”

After noticing that most retirees around her had an abundance of culinary skills and free time — precisely the resources many young professionals like herself lack — Chen devised the central idea behind Shi Yi.

SHI YI (食憶)

Address: 4, Alley 2, Lane 359, Fujin St, Taipei City (台北市富錦街359巷2弄4號)

Telephone: (02) 2765-4898

Open: Dates and times vary; check online for details

Average meal: NT$800 to NT$990 per person

Details: No menu; reservations required by telephone or online; diners with dietary restrictions should make them known in their reservation

On the Net (Chinese): www.suitaipei.com


Housed in the cosy but elegant former residence of a navy captain on Fujin Street (富錦街), the restaurant opens exclusively on weekends and occasional weekdays. Each day, three retirees come together to cook a meal for about 30 diners.

The food is served as it would be at a family meal, in communal dishes shared by each table. Tastes skew toward the traditional, often with a personal twist. This attracts a range of clientele, young and old, although getting in the door is tough. At press time, tables for the rest of July and the whole of August have sold out.

Throughout the meal, diners are free to mingle with the chefs at their tables or in the open kitchen, and vice versa.

“[Older people] have so many rich life stories and experiences,” Chen says. “In this way they can share them and also find a sense of accomplishment here.”

From an initial recruitment among her friends’ parents, Chen has since expanded her roster of home cooks to number about 20, the oldest of whom is 93-years-old.

Last Sunday, Tai was joined in the kitchen by Liu Chin-ming (劉錦明), 64, a former hotpot restaurant owner, and Lin Jen-lung (林人龍), 60, a retired educator.

It is Lin’s first meal service at Shi Yi. He applied to the restaurant at the encouragement of his wife and sees his participation as a way of maintaining a more “diverse lifestyle” in retirement.

Liu, who was recommended by friends already cooking at Shi Yi, says she joined the project because “there’s no one to eat the food at home” ever since her daughter moved out.

“Everyone here gets along very happily, and when we make food for the guests to eat, I get a real sense of accomplishment,” she says.

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