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Food, Glorious Food!!!

Updated: Mar 18

One of the highlights of Caleb and Rei’s wedding was the food, glorious food! Big brother and little brother Stephen have a history of bonding over food. As shared in chef Stephen’s toast, cooking with Caleb is the reason that he chose to become a chef. By inviting his little brother to cater the food for the 150 quests attending his wedding banquet, these brothers are creating yet another unforgettable chapter in their story together.


To accomplish this daunting feat, Stephen enlisted the help of his two friends who have partnered with him often in the past on various projects, test kitchens, and popups.

This dream team arrived Tuesday evening prior to the wedding and began working 18 hour days for 3 consecutive days before pulling an all-nighter the night before wedding day. From planning the logistics of feeding 150 people to timing the execution of the cooking, this Dream Team did an incredible job despite running out of gas for cooking part way and the sink getting clogged early in the process, making completion of the cooking near impossible. Yet they managed to run to the finish line with their spirits intact (although everyone lost their voices by the end), before scrubbing down the church kitchen and then collapsing in exhaustion. This is truly a work of love that shall not be attempted again. For this I am truly touched and grateful.

Preparation began way before their arrival as they purchased food and rented equipment to be delivered to the church by the time of their arrival. As soon as they landed, they immediately went about purchasing the rest of the ingredients fresh from local markets.


After the partners have left for their Chicago home, and Stephen is more rested, I sat down to interview Stephen on his thought process in designing the fusion Taiwanese-Japanese menu, and learned a lot. I hope readers will also find it interesting and enlightening!




Interviewing Stephen on how he designed the wedding menu

Mom: What is your thought process as you are designing the menu for your big brother Caleb’s wedding to Rei?

Stephen: Whenever I work with clients, I start out by asking if they have any strong memories that they have that they can attach to food. With Caleb and Rei, some of the very distinct ones was Caleb remembering the smell of 盐酥鸡 (Taiwanese salt & pepper fried chicken) and Rei distinctly wanting miso to be a part of the menu. In the beginning as well, they both really wanted puns to be involved with the dishes. They wanted there to be double entendres with certain ingredients. Originally there was an 爱玉 (Aiyu lemon jelly in shaved ice) dish because it sounded like 爱 (love) you. It was just finding flavors that had a strong nostalgic component to them.

It was just about what memories they had with different ingredients. So the pork belly, the ramen, we really want to include that. And for me, being a Taiwanese chef, it was very easy to understand Caleb's memories because those are the same memories that I had.


So when he said something, it was a snap for me, whereas it was hard to translate Rei’s memories of food like the hambagu (Japanese hamburger dish) and stuff like that. But I feel that the difference between Japanese and Taiwanese food is that Japanese food is all about honoring the ingredients and having simple clean flavors that are very well executed, whereas Taiwanese food is about very exciting punchy flavors that are new and different. So I think the marriage of those two foods were almost like a clash, where I felt like I almost had to overemphasize all the Japanese flavors and components to balance out how dominant I feel like the Taiwanese flavors are just in my cooking in general.


Mom: And how did you design the flow of each dish? Because I noticed that there were some alternating themes, maybe back and forth between Japanese and Taiwanese. Is that on purpose?


Stephen: Yeah, absolutely! Absolutely.


I think we really wanted there to be a fusion within every single course. We didn't want any single courses to feel like it was fully Japanese or fully Taiwanese, but we did want each course to kind of take turns taking the lead.


So the first course was very much like a salad that we thought would be good to start with. But the cucumber in it did take on a bit more of a Japanese-like pickled cucumbers while the watermelon was more of a Taiwanese fruit.


Then the second course was very much so focused on Japanese flavors where we want the miso to really take a forefront. We wanted the crackle on the mushrooms to resemble the Taiwanese 盐酥鸡 (salt & pepper fried chicken), but also using tempura technique with adding carbonation to the batter. Then the tare (Japanese dipping sauce) is very Japanese but we added roasted peaches just to add a little bit something special to it.


Mom: What's tare(塔塔酱)?


Stephen: Tare is typically what you braise pork belly in to make chashu(叉烧肉) for ramen, and in the leftover brazing liquid from the pork belly, which is typically brown sugar, sake, soy sauce, mirin and kombu, typically that then is reserved after braising the pork belly and it's the base of ramen. You add that in with your miso and your bone broth and that's ramen base. We made a vegan tare using charred peaches instead of pork to make the tare for the mushrooms. That tare was then used to make a lot of other things like our cured egg yolks and the base of our pork belly tare as well.


Then this next course is also more Japanese-focused with the cured yolk, the hambagu crispy rice. And yes -- the caviar. We really want the caviar to elevate what was a very humble sort of peasant dish in Japan.


Mom: Was caviar planned from the beginning?


Stephen: Yes, the thing is that Tonkatsu Demi, or tonkatsu (fried porkchop) glaze is typically made from Worcestershire sauce and anchovies as well as ketchup. So we wanted to amplify the anchovy fishiness of that with caviar. I think caviar is typically used to being the main flavor profile when it's the entire course, but we felt like that was just boring. We want to use it as a way to amplify something that was very humble and so putting on something that has so much flavor already in it, I feel like it made it so that the caviar was more of a component rather than the only thing on there.


Mom: Yes and that was genius.


Stephen: Thank you.


Mom: It tasted so good.


Stephen: I think it makes it taste fishier which is usually not what you want with caviar but in this case that's what you wanted. And the next one was much more like a Taiwanese focus.


I feel like chicken and waffle is like a classic Southern dish, but in Taiwan specifically you see that a lot with the bubble waffles and the 盐酥鸡 (Taiwanese fried chicken). So we made it karaage style (Japanese fried chicken) where we marinated it in Japanese marinade. But then we fried it and then put white pepper, five spice and salt on top to make it to marinate. With the yam bubble waffle (bubble waffle made with baked yam batter), covered with the Sichuan maple syrup, I feel like it really made it feel very, very Taiwanese. And then we brought in a little bit of the Japanese component with the shishito verde (green salsa made with Japanese shishito pepper), so you had the blistered shishitos and that green sauce at the bottom.


Mom: So can you explain what's Sichuan maple? Is that maple syrup with a distinctive Sichuan flavor? Or just maple syrup?


Stephen: Yeah, basically, we took maple syrup and then we toasted off a bunch of red and green Sichuan peppercorns along with blackened orange zest, cinnamon, star anise, cumin and a little bit of coriander. And then we add that to the maple syrup and let that infuse for four days before we served it. So basically you're getting that five spice, a very Sichuan spice flavor -- five spice maple syrup. I feel like the maple syrup goes obviously with the chicken and waffles very well, but then the Sichuan flavor makes it feel distinctly Asian. And very distinctly Taiwanese, you know.

Now the matcha soba, that was another more Japanese focus. We wanted the soba to be a really refreshing course.


Mom: It was! This was many people’s favorite dish of the day!


Stephen: So that one was just to show off really high-end ingredients. That was the heirloom tomatoes plus the watermelon from the first course, as well as the fresh imported wasabi. Those things just came together to be a really high-end soba. Also, that was admittedly very inspired by naengmyeon, which is Korean (cold noodles), but we wanted to do that in a more Japanese way.

Then the beauty of dumplings was inherently very Japanese because the filling was just like a pork belly that was supposed to taste like ramen broth, but everything else about it, like the crispy cheese, the shishito verde, the cilantro oil, I feel like brought it back to feeling like fusion in Taiwanese. There was also 酸菜 (Taiwanese pickled salt mustard green) mixed in with the filling, so it brought in a little bit of Taiwanese flavor.

The Yuba (tofu skin Lasagna, that's strictly pretty much Taiwanese).


Mom: Except for the dobanjiang(豆瓣酱, a soybean paste)from Chengdu.


Stephen: I feel like Doubanjiang is used a lot within Taiwanese food as well. Some people even consider dobanjiang a Taiwanese component, but obviously when people hear dobanjiang they think of mapo tofu(麻婆豆腐, spicy Sichuan tofu) and they think dan dan mian(担担面, spicy Sichuan dan dan noodles), but it's also 红油抄手 (spicy Sichuan dumplings). It's also in a lot of Taiwanese ingredients. For example, beef noodle soup. Taiwan 牛肉面 (beef noodle soup) is dobanjiang based.

The beef ragu (name for an Italian meat-based sauce) was braised oxtail and that was the ragu I wanted to almost be reminiscent of -- the braised oxtail that I used to make on tomatoes. So mine was oxtail, bone marrow, pork, 腊肉 (Taiwanese dried salted pork belly), and then beef. And then that was cooked down and then added into the layers of the yuba with bechamel (French dairy based sauce) that we made with basically caramelized ginger, garlic, and then the doubanjiang.


After that we got that really caramelized, that's when we add in the butter and flour and made it into a roux (a mixture of flour and fat cooked together to thicken sauces) and then let that get really, really, really dark before adding in our seasoned milk to make the bechamel.


Then that got rolled up to bake that off. So that was a very Taiwanese dish inherently.


Mom: Yeah, it was excellent! The steamed fish is served both in Taiwan and in Japan.

Stephen: Yes. But that one was more Taiwanese as well. I think the opal apples kind of was the in-between ingredient that kind of bridged the two.


Mom: That was very surprising and delicious.


Stephen: I'm so glad.


And then the maple douhua (soybean jelly) was I think our final one. With it being such a Taiwanese focused dish, we wanted for the last course of the day for there to be a lot of Japanese components as well. That’s the reason for the black sesame shiso which is sesame leaves.  We basically took that chopped up really fine, mixed it up with Taiwanese black sugar that's usually the foundation of boba and boba milk tea as well as black sesame deserts. We dehydrated that and made a crumble and then the genmai (Japanese crispy rice in teas) basically added to that as well.


I think that's how we were able to find the balance between the dishes.


Mom: Thank you Stephen, for making the wedding reception banquet one of the most memorable parts of this wedding day! Most catered wedding meals, because of such a large number of people, typically feature simple meats and vegetables because the food has to be cooked and consumed by so many. For you to attempt an elevated fine dining experience for the 150 guests present without compromising on the quality of the ingredients, the presentation, or the taste of each bite, is truly a phenomenal feat. Thank you for this unforgettable banquet culinary experience!




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