MUME Tops The List As Taipei’s Best Modern European Cuisine

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Putting Taipei on the foodies chart.

In Taipei, there are only a handful of restaurants to have stood the time of buzz. In a city never lacking openings, new restaurants reign at the top of trends for six months, if even that. Word travels fast, foodies move from hotspots one after another. As if conceptual restaurants are as disposable as the next new toy. MUME, however, is still followed by a trail of murmurs. “Have you been there?” “How did you like it?” “Is it hard to get a table?” Buzz. It still nails it.

It takes three ambitious, driven chefs. For this interview, we sat down with one of them, Kai Ward, an Australian trailblazing Taiwan’s modern food scene as fast as flickering lightening. At 18 years old, Ward was already a determined chef, traveling between two jobs in Albury and Sydney. Did we mention one of the restaurants he worked at was Quay, the número uno restaurant in Australia at the time and one of the world’s 50 best restaurants.

Fast forward a few years, Ward met Richie Lin who had worked at Noma, hailed as the best restaurant in the world and a two Michelin-star gastronomic mecca run by chef René Redzepi in Copenhagen, Denmark. The two young chefs became friends and co-worker at Quay where Ward rose to the pasty chef position before deciding that it was time to stretch his wings further.

After considering several options including Europe, Asia and the U.S., Ward called Richie who was in Hong Kong but was determined to open his own restaurant in Taiwan. Ward jumped onboard, despite having never traveled to Taiwan before. In August 2014, he came to Taiwan,

I trusted Richie who believed there was a lot of potential in Taiwan to do something really cool.

Indeed, their timing couldn’t have been more ideal. For many years, city slickers in Taipei had been traveling around the world. In addition to growing up on an island which brews delectable cuisine, Taiwanese food remains low key under the global radar. As Taiwanese spend more time abroad, their knowledge and taste levels have also grown with international trends. Farm-to-table concepts, molecular cuisine, gastro-pub menus were no longer foreign but a source of expectations. Except, one couldn’t find modern gastronomy anywhere in Taipei.

MUME opened two weeks after RAW – Michelin chef André Chiang’s first restaurant in Taipei – which was indicative of its caliber in a city hungry for new ways to taste food:

Our goal was never to be at that level. We just wanted a space that we enjoy, to cook the food we like. We wanted to be in casual fine dining, we never wanted this place to be pretentious or uptight, but a lot more relaxed.

Behind the scenes is a fascinating team of non-Taiwanese chefs, including: an Australian (Ward,) Lin who is from Hong Kong but grew up in Toronto and third partner Long Xiong who is ethnically mainland Chinese but was born and raised in Boston. The three have similar personalities and beliefs in food:

First, it has to taste good. If it doesn’t taste good, then there’s no point in making it. Also, food can be reasonably priced. It doesn’t have to be caviar, foie gras, sea urchin or truffle for it to taste good.

Bringing us to the point of a favorite dish on the menu: chicken liver prepared via brûlée, which sings in French as melodically as foie gras with accents in finesse. In essence, MUME applies the knowledge of modern European cuisine and combine it with Taiwanese ingredients.

Here, we’re taking local ingredients and showing them how each can be played in a way they’ve never tasted before. So it’s something new and familiar to them.

Digging further in foodism, the chefs have relished on working with pork and chicken in Taiwan. Both are more flavorful, due to agriculture, climate and what’s being fed to the animals. In addition to the fruits and vegetables, especially carrots are particularly sweet or different forms of lettuces that are extremely tasty.

At first, the chefs cooked with ingredients they knew. But after awhile, to create an even more interesting  menu, they went to the market and bought everything, even things unrecognizable to them.

We would taste it, and figure out what it’s linked to and how we could cook it in a way that’s delicious. There are still some things that we haven’t cracked, like the dragon fruit flower. We tried cooking with it, it’s still bitter and it has a slimy texture.

The multiculturalism factor is what makes the food at MUME furthermore exhilarating. As Ward often look at Taiwanese ingredients and wonder how he would tackle it if he was back in Australia, while Xiong would also take his American roots and experiences of working at institutions like Per Se. On top of Lin’s Noma and Cantonese background, the chefs spin various techniques, seasonings then apply to each dish.

Olive oil, for me, is essential in cooking. But there’s not much olive oil here, so we make our own infused maqaw oil (an evergreen tree found in China, Indonesia and Taiwan. It produces a fruit then processed for its lemony essential oil.) It carries a citrusy note, and it’s also very Taiwanese but it creates a sense a harmonious tone throughout the whole menu.

This is the perfect example of how local ingredients are being experimented in the MUME kitchen. Ward uses tea frequently, even in desserts to provide an aroma that hums complexity and familiarity in unison.

Raising the modernity bar in Taipei’s culinary world, these guys utilize pop-ups to collaborate with chefs from around the world. Allowing foreign chefs to create in their own styles by using local Taiwanese ingredients. It allows Taiwanese to see something different but reminding them of their roots. These events also allow both sides of chefs to learn new artistry and share ideas. On a larger scope, it exposes Taiwan to the rest of the world.

The next exploration will be in Taiwan’s aboriginal cuisine. And we have no doubt, it will be an innovative and delicious surprise.

Wendy Hung

CEO, FOUNDER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and Russia because they were all so different! St. Bart's was pretty amazing too (wink)!

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