We sat down with Vanessa Huang, owner and chef of Ephernite, a French restaurant that’s popular among those in the know. Vanessa’s restaurant celebrates delicious dishes and memorable moments. She talks us through her inspiration behind what is one of Taipei’s most warm and authentic French dining experiences.
Interview: Vanessa Huang
Actually our restaurant is unlike others in Taiwan, in that our menu is different everyday. We make adjustments based on our daily findings at the market, and we design our menu around that. For example, if we see really fresh seafood or vegetables or meat, we’ll put that on the menu.
I can’t really say that I have one signature dish, and even when our guests keep coming week after week asking for a specific dish, I get bored of making the same thing and will want to move on to something else. What I like is giving our guests something new every time.
A very special moment for me is when my parents go to the fields themselves and handpick ingredients for me, like lemongrass, lily flower root, etc, and I’ll use them to make ice cream or appetizers. And the part that makes me most proud and happy is when I get to tell our customers, ‘this was handpicked by my mom!’. But of course, it doesn’t happen often, only sometimes when the chance arises.
I went to France at the end of 2002, to attend the cooking school, Ferrandi. At the time I just wanted to have my own little coffee shop, like most young girls. But one day my chef, my mentor at the school, asked me if I wanted to do a stage (internship) at a 3 starred Michelin restaurant, he thought it was a great opportunity for me. I agreed, not even knowing what Michelin was, and that experience would go on to change my life.
Being the only female and foreigner student during my stage, I didn’t want to lose to everyone else, and I would push myself to keep up. Although it was daunting and disheartening when I couldn’t understand my teacher, I continued to give it my all, and at the time I felt like maybe I was working harder than others. But now looking back, I don’t think it was anything too extraordinary.
When I came back to Taipei, I imagined opening a restaurant just like the one I trained at, something small and intimate, can sit 20 to 25 people a day, reservations only. I wanted to serve food that was beautiful, and delicious, but at the same time not at prices that would be inaccessible to people.
Since the beginning, we didn’t want to use processed foods, we wanted to make sure we knew where our food came from and that way we could have better control over our quality. When we came back to Taiwan, we visited a lot of farms and found one that could grow fresh produce for us, and every time the farmers come, they stay for a drink or a meal and some conversation, it’s not just a business transaction. It’s like a very traditional type of relationship, one you only see back in our parent’s days. We were just trying to create the best dining experience possible, It was only later that people told us what we are doing here is called ‘farm-to-table’ and that it’s a very popular trend in the industry right now.
‘Ephernite’ is a word that does not exist in the French dictionary, because it’s a combination of two words: Éphémère (ephemeral) and éternité (eternity). The idea behind it is that a happy moment only lasts a few seconds, but the memory lasts an eternity. That’s what we want to create.