From chef Ivy Chen’s childhood days spent amidst the aromas of soy sauce to the pages of her acclaimed cookbook, „Made in Taiwan: Recipes and Stories from the Island Nation“, her journey embodies the tradition and innovation in Taiwanese cuisine.

As a young girl, Ivy Chen never imagined that food would later play such a significant role in her life. Growing up in the countryside near Tainan, she, as the eldest of four children, had to assist in cooking at home. This was particularly true during special occasions when neighbors and relatives gathered to cook, eat, and celebrate together. Even today, she vividly remembers the scent of soy sauce from black beans, so characteristic of her region. Her father conducted business with a soy sauce company and often took her along to meetings. „People used to joke and say my skin was so dark because I drank so much soy sauce,“ she recalls with hearty laughter in her cooking studio in Taipei.

Now, at 60 years old, she runs the cooking school „Ivy’s Kitchen“ and has already published her first cookbook in English, the third overall. Titled „Made in Taiwan: Recipes and Stories from the Island Nation,“ it was a collaboration with journalist Clarissa Wei. Clarissa, born to Taiwanese parents in the USA, wanted to explore her identity further, and what better way to do so than through food?

The book features local classics such as braised pork belly and three-cup chicken, along with authentic, never-before-seen recipes and techniques like preparing Stinky Tofu and broth tips from an award-winning master of beef noodle soup. The „New York Times“ hailed it as the „Best Cookbook of 2023.“

Before opening her cooking school over 25 years ago and prior to cooking only for her husband and daughter, she worked for a trading company. Later, she began teaching folk art courses for the „Community Service Center“ in Taipei. The nonprofit organization assists foreigners and locals in making connections, provides counseling, and offers various activities. „I was asked to take expats to the local market to show them how to buy local ingredients,“ she explains.

Soon after, she started offering her first cooking classes. On the side, she attended a culinary school, immersed herself in foreign cuisine in order to understand more Western dishes, and learned, among other things, in France which wines complemented each dish best. She never worked in a restaurant; at 38, she applied for an internship in a local restaurant but was rejected due to her age. She chuckles as she recounts this. She taught herself everything, has about 400 dishes in her mind, and still practices new dishes at home, rarely dining out.

Initially, her teaching dishes consisted solely of Chinese recipes. „We didn’t talk about Taiwanese identity, which includes food, until the politics changed,“ she says. And so, Taiwanese and guests from around the world get to enjoy Ivy’s Taiwanese cuisine when they attend one of her popular cooking classes. Due to her passion for her profession, she hopes it can continue for a long time, she says when asked about her wishes for the future. Only her husband, now retired, would like her to take it a bit easier…

Chef Ivy Chen brings Taiwanese flavors to the forefront


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