Photo Credit：Jocelyn Chen
The original article was published in the “United Daily News” on 26th Feburary 2020
Situated in the eastern part of Taiwan, Taitung has been able to preserve its natural environment thanks to the Central Mountain Range. The mountains have prevented further development in the area. The French restaurant Sinasera 24, located in Taitung’s Changbin Township, boasts a magnificent ocean view. With its excellent local ingredients and a Michelin-trained chef, Sinasera 24 reminds me of Mirazur in southern France.
Changbin is where I am willing to travel a long distance for great food. Manager of the hotel told me that Sinasera 24 is situated in one of the most remote places in Taiwan.
Chef Nick Yang is just a 30 years old young man
The restaurant also provides accommodation. From afar, the entire building looks quite plain. Once entering the restaurant and hotel, however, I discovered a whole new world. The ocean view was magnificent and the rooms were spacious. I kept regretting not having stayed for two nights at the hotel.
The hotel offered quality services and the food was even more unforgettable. A firm proponent of “terroir,” the chef of Sinasera 24 is excellent at creating menus around the best available seasonal produce. His philosophy was also reflected in the name of the restaurant. “Sinasera” means “the land” in the Amis language, while “24” stands for the 24 solar terms according to traditional lunar calendar and emphasizes a respect for nature by cooking with seasonal produce. The Sinasera 24 menus also use many local traditional Chinese medicinal herbs and ingredients, as well as ingredients from Taitung and Hualien.
Sustainability, farm-to-table and more natural ways of cooking are all currently trendy culinary methods. Chef Nick Yang’s cooking philosophy is deeply influenced by the three-starred Michelin restaurant Le Petit Nice. Ambitious as he was, it took Yang less than two years to become the only chef de partie with Chinese background in the restaurant’s one hundred years of history. He was only in his early twenties at the time. Now just turning thirty, Yang has a restaurant of his own and is mature in his culinary style. It is obvious that Yang aspires to create a French restaurant with seafood-based menus along the coast of Taiwan.
Marseille is known for its abundant seafood and as the birthplace of many classic seafood dishes. Right next to the Pacific Ocean, Taitung’s Changbin Township enjoys the same advantage. Yang decided to bring the skills and knowledge he acquired in France back to Taitung.
Sinasera’s dishes use many local herbs and eastern ingredients
I especially like the fried fish roll with coriander yogurt sauce. The thin outer layer of the fish roll was almost translucent, demonstrating the chef’s fine culinary skills. Bread served at Sinasera 24 was also impeccable. The European style bread was crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. Added with macadamia nuts, the bread has a particular smell when dipped in local tea seed oil.
One Sinasera 24 signature dish is mahi-mahi sashimi, aged for 48 hours. It is served with local smoked tuna flakes for added flavor, put on top of vegetable terrine made with cucumber and Clausena excavate, and gives a very fresh taste. Another seafood main course used freshly caught ruby snapper, cooked till the fish meat was just tender. Served with tomato, coriander and basil, the dish was reminiscent of the Mediterranean. I still remember vividly how fresh and tender the dish was. It was definitely one of the most delicious dishes I had last year.
Freshly caught ruby snapper
The Changbin version of bouillabaisse used local small fish and thin-shelled rock crab as the main ingredients. Stir-fried with saffron and fennel, the fish and crab are simmered, puréed and sifted through. The soup has a savory flavor. At Sinasera 24, the fish commonly used in this dish include red seabream, Moorish idol and flame snapper. The thin-shelled rock crab is a local rock crab with a strong flavor. It is often pickled and eaten raw by local tribal people.
There was also local wild small lobster grilled on charcoal grill. The perfectly cooked lobster was chewy, spongy and very fresh. Together with the lobster sauce, mint and lemon to balance the strong flavor of the small lobster, the dish tasted just perfect.
Small lobster grilled on charcoal grill
Sinasera24 makes the best of local ingridents
The dessert offered yet another pleasant surprise. The first dessert was the hand-made cheese – soft Brie made of local milk and served with strawberry. The last dessert featured local ingredients — lemon smoothie was served with skinned and pickled green chili, parsley and lemon mousse with apple puree.
Sinasera 24’s desserts surprised us
Another highlight was Sinasera 24’s wine menu. It was a fine selection of wine and very reasonably priced. At first we worried that the choices of wine might be limited in Taitung. However, we were surprised to find that the restaurant used Zalto glasses and the prices were reasonable to a worrying extent. As for the quality of waiter services, there is still room for improvement but they definitely offered nice and friendly service.
The next day, the chef showed us the herb farm where he had contract farming agreement with the farmers. We tried a special herb that tasted like oyster plant. For those who visit around the end of the year, there is also an opportunity to see how sugarcane is stir-fried and becomes sugar.
Chef Nick in the farm
I was impressed by the seafood in Taitung during this visit. The seafood from the Pacific Ocean was so fresh, especially those caught around where ocean currents meet. I was also curious about the background of the chef. Yang, aged 30, went to France after finishing his military service in Taitung. Before becoming the chef de partie at Le Petit Nice, he had worked at the one-Michelin-starred restaurant La Bonne Etape and stayed in France for about four years. It was the owner of an electronic company from Taitung, who went to France and spent a week to talk to him, that eventually persuaded him to return to Taiwan.
Taitung has a special place in Yang’s heart. During his military service in Taitung, he led the students from Changbin Junior High School to win a bronze medal in an international culinary competition, a certified event by World Association of Chefs Societies. He also organized a culinary summer camp and culinary classes, contributing much to local culinary education. The idea of devoting his skills to local communities has always been something that he is passionate about.
While many chefs eventually choose to return to the simpler styles after having spent much of their career in creating complex dishes full of details, as a young chef, Yang has never been that overly meticulous. His culinary philosophy was also shared by Ryohei Hieda, chef of the two-Michelin-starred Nihonryori RyuGin in Taipei.
Experiencing the process of making sugar from sugar cane
Yang places “terroir” and ingredients as priority. Usually only chefs who have been living in an environment that raw food is a common part of diet can easy feel comfortable to present ingredients in their most natural form. And as I found out, Yang is a fan of sushi.
It has been almost two years since Sinasera 24 opened in Taitung. Yang said that the beginning was difficult for the restaurant. There were usually two tables of diners at noon. Hiring was also challenging in such a remote area and they had to recruit people from the cities. Currently, most visitors are from other cities. However, as the reputation of the restaurant grows, they are seeing diners visiting from abroad. For example, there was once an owner of a French wine estate who came all the way from Europe to enjoy the food at Sinasera 24.
“I want to continue to push my limit. Changbin is where I can think about innovation in a quiet environment and learn more about local food to support agriculture in the rural area,” said Yang. He believes that if Sinasera 24 becomes more famous, the reputation can help the development of Changbin and attract more and better diners to visit the area.
While the goal of becoming a destination restaurant has its challenge, Taitung’s superb ocean view, abundant seafood, fresh local ingredients and the passion and talent of the chef have no doubt given Sinasera 24 a head start that put the restaurant at world-class level.
Gourmets have been willing to travel afar just to dine at Fäviken in Sweden or enjoy food at Koks in Faroe Islands. If these restaurants can attract diners despite their location, why can’t Sinasera 24?
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Jocelyn Chen has received Master degree of SDA Bocconi Business School in Milan, Italy. She is the founder of fine dining media tastytrip.com She also acts as judge for many renown food competitions and awards. She was one of the judges of “Chef Nic”, the popular cooking show in China and the moderator of chef documentary “Banquet Planet”. Columnist of Taiwan Economic Daily News and several lifestyle magazines in China. All articles are published on tastytrip.com.