By Nancy T. Lu
Chef Willi Isler took a crowd gathered at the increasingly popular Cooking Studio of Eslite Bookstore in Taipei’s Xinyi District on a tour of the culinary map of Switzerland last week.
The recipes which he introduced on this occasion, as explained by Hans Peter Fritze, deputy director of the Trade Office of Swiss Industries in Taipei, highlighted the French, German and Italian influences in the Swiss food culture.
The chef from the Switzerland Culinary Arts Academy demonstrated first a breakfast recipe, tapping oatmeal, milk, yoghurt, honey, lemon juice, apples, hazelnuts as well as seasonal fruits. Birchermuesli was described as German in origin. Apples had to be washed but not peeled, he pointed out. Drops of lemon kept the apples from changing color. Oats and hazelnuts were soaked overnight or at least for six hours. In the food preparation, fresh banana was added only at the very end.
Malakoff did not sound French at all but the chef said the food preparation originated from the French-speaking part of Confederation Helvetica like Geneva. He demonstrated the recipe regarded as an appetizer or even main course for his second dish.
Swiss cheeses like Gruyere (best known of all Swiss cheeses) and Emmental (Swiss cheese with large holes but minus the mouse peeping out) came to be listed as imported ingredients of Malakoff. So were rye bread and kirsch or cherry brandy along with white wine. Garlic clove, cayenne, nutmeg, gherkins ,and pickled onions were all in the picture. Cheese had to be spread on the bread and then put into the oven.
Risotto al funghi e asparagi sounded Italian. Rice – specifically the round grain kind called Arborio – must be cooked “al dente” or slightly crunchy, emphasized Isler. Bouillon gave it a tasty flavor. The rice preparation often compared with the paella and the pilaf must be served in a soup bowl, according to the chef. Finish it off, singing “O Sole Mio,” suggested Isler.
The carrot cake – the best way to enjoy the edible root – should be done the day before for it to taste really good. But at least chef Isler went to great lengths to explain details about the recipe like getting the moisture right. It should taste better on the second or even on the third day, he told his listeners. (Chef Isler is shown glazing the carrot cake in the picture.)
I recall going gaga over carrot cake in the past. I never got to taste it at the Cooking Studio though.
I had arrived too late to grab a seat at the Cooking Studio. When the food trays were brought around, only those seated were served. Not a single dish demonstrated by chef Isler reached me, patiently standing on one side of the room and watching the proceedings. And so I left the cooking session, imagining how all those Swiss dishes tasted and feeling kind of disappointed.