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MAGAZINE, June 1999
Address: 12F, Grand Formosa Hotel
Phone: (04) 2328-8000
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Something delectably Mediterranean is simmering on the 12th floor
of the newly opened Grand Formosa Taichung. Embracing an ample corner
section of the elegant, 12th floor lobby of this hotel is a pure
slice of authentic Italy.
The Romana Restaurant Italiano is the place, where a mouth-watering
aroma of garlic and Italian seasonings blend with the sound of traditional
Italian music to create the ambiance reminiscent of a villa in the
hill towns of Italy. Alessandro Mancuso, the executive chef of the
extablishment, oversees the creation of an abundant and colorful
array of authentic specialties. In buffet style, there is ample
opportunity to sample the contrasting flavors of various regions
Alessandro was kind enough to step away from the hum of preparatory
activity one morning to share his experiences as a leading chef
in various exotic locations throughout the world. His dark features,
accentuated by dark rimmed glasses, give him a distinguishable presence
behind the buffet counter; yet he is very modest in describing what
most of us would consider nothing less than an incredibly impressive
Alessandro grew up in Torino, a city near Milan. Early on, he apprenticed
in restaurants from Tuscany to Genoa in winter and summer seasons.
He finished cooking school in 1986, and after serving the obligatory
one year in the Italian army he moved to London and began a somewhat
unexpected career abroad. "I went to London thinking I'd stay
awhile and then return to Italy," he said with a distinctive
But his culinary talents were discovered and his career abroad was
launched. He proceeded to work in Italian restaurants of high caliber
in such places as Israel, New Jersey and California in America,
Australia and even two very prominent cruise lines before arriving
in Taichung in March, 1999.
Some of the highlights of his career include working in the United
Kingdom several times between 1987 and 1995 in Mediterranean restaurants
as lead chef. In Southern Israel, he was the head chef at the King
Salamo Palace Hotel's Italian restaurant, serving kosher cuisine.
This was the only five star hotel there in 1990. The Gulf War hit
and he moved but then returned in 1995 to work as chef at the prestigious
Royal Beach Hotel in the same hotel group as the King Salamo. La
Cucina Restaurant at the Royal Beach overlooked the Red Sea. "This
was built to resemble an elegantly restored mansion," he explained.
Allesandro worked for Star Cruise Lines, in Southeast Asia as head
chef of Italian restaurants on board cruise ships whose routes were
Hong Kong to Malaysia, and Singapore. When this company dissolved,
Disney Cruise Line recruited him and Venice, Portugal, and Port
Canaveral, Florida, as well as Disney's private island were ports
of call. Some 2500 guests traveled on the ship and a series of restaurants
"all very mobile, with moving parts and people in costume running
back and forth" decorated the top deck. He was lead chef for
the Italian restaurant on board. "When we arrived at Disney's
island, we literally had two hours to set up a large scale barbeque
for over 2000 people including moving all equipment, food and beverage
off the ship, setting up, cooking and clean up," he recalled.
One of the greatest highlights working on the Disney cruise line
was meeting his then future wife, Joanne, who was working in reception
and room service. Seeking a change from the exciting but frenzied
pace of the cruise ship, he and Joanne married in Mexico and Alessandro
became a dive instructor in Phuket, Thailand before coming to Taiwan.
"I had offers in Kuwait, South Korea, and Taiwan," he
said. "And I chose Taiwan." Wife Joanne now teaches English
in town. "She is a fabulous cook and speaks Spanish as well
as English," he added.
Alessandro gives high credit to his team including chefs he recruited
due to their energy and desire to learn. "Only two had prior
experience with the intricacies of Italian cooking," he noted.
All are learning very quickly, he said. He wishes to thank Mr. Charles
Sanders, Food Director at the Grand Formosa Taipei who spent two
intensive weeks training the Taichung team, Iris in the Brasserie
Restaurant at the hotel, restaurant manager Nancy and assistant
manager Betty as well as his chefs, Mark, Grace, Carey, Tommy, Jack,
Brad, Rod, Learner, Oscar, Rose and James, who diligently create
the exceptional featured fare.
And what about the specialties presented? "I was born in Southern
Italy and grew up in the Northern region so I wish to integrate
not only these contrasting styles but also have them integrate with
Taiwanese tastes. I want to create authentic versions that have
the diversity to appeal to Eastern or Western palates," he
Such favorites as calzone sit next to exotic quail in chestnut sauce.
Festive and imaginative vinigarettes in ornamental caraffes decorate
each table. A pizza throwing demonstration and pasta making are
special presentations. Fresh seafood, cheese, and parma ham are
among ingredients imported from Italy and around the world.
Alessandro looks forward to getting acquainted with his guests in
order to focus on specific culinary tastes.
"Basically, we want to provide our patrons with traditional,
rustic food from old Italy -- not too flashy, just elegant and flavorful,
and to make people comfortable while introducing creative favorites
from my homeland," he said.
By Barbara Healy