Taiwan Fun Magazine, June 2006

La Chaine des Rotisseurs: Taiwan's growing circle of gastronomes

---By Douglas Habecker Translated by Eva Huang

Perhaps you're a proud member of a local Lion's Club, or a Rotarian. Maybe you've joined one of the city's exclusive business or hotel clubs. But what about a global society of gastronomes that dates back over 550 years to a medieval French guild of spit-roasters?

In recent years, Taiwan has seen a steady increase of truly enlightened, discerning connoisseurs of very fine dining. A number of factors are responsible for this change, including internationalization and affluence, frequent overseas travel by local residents and, most significantly, a dynamic influx of international five-star dining establishments and chefs.
With such a conducive environment, it's not altogether surprising that Taiwan has its own delegation, or "Bailliage", for the Chaine des Rotisseurs. This French-based organization has a fascinating history that dates back to 1248, when St. Louis, King of France, organized the Guild of Spit-Roasters, given the special privilege of roasting geese. It later received royal patronage and its own coat of arms, but was dissolved with other guilds after the French Revolution. It wasn't unitl 1950 that three French gastronomes resurrected the organization with the goal of reviving the old guild's spirit "to the professionals in association with non-professional gastronomes and housewives alike".

The Taiwan "bailliage", founded in 1977, currently has 60 members consisting of culinary connoisseurs from all walks of life but leaning more towards food and beverage industry professionals who make up 35 to 40 percent of the total and include five-star hotel GMs, chefs, restaurant owners and the like. Currently, there is roughly a 50-50 mix of foreigners to Taiwanese. The group convenes about once every two months to savor dinners that truly can be considered the pinnacle of all-around fine dining experiences in Taiwan. These are hosted by Taipei's finest hotels and restaurants, whose chefs and managers vie shamelessly to outdo each other.

If you're a first-time guest, like I was, the regalia alone can be intimidating. The members, clad in tuxedos and formalwear, have their royal-looking green, blue and purple bows and medallions around their necks. Induction into the group resembles a knighting, complete with a sword tap to the shoulder. Nevertheless, the environment is friendly, relaxed and welcoming.
To put it mildly, the dinners are amazing. My evening happened to be "Godfather's Sicilian Night" at The Sherwood Taipei (NT$4,000 for members). Waiters, dressed to resemble 1920s mobsters, served an eight-course dinner, with a main course of Roasted Lamb Tenderloin in Crust of Sea Salt from Trapani and Marsala Wine Sauce, accompanied by three fine wines. In an evening highlight, the wines were introduced by International Wine Academy of Roma Director Ian Domenico D'Agata, via a live TV connection to Rome. The previous gathering, "Delights in a Summer Garden", saw the Grand Hyatt Taipei transform their ballroom into an exquisite outdoor garden, complete with real grass.

"Our purpose is to enjoy good food with good wines in a nice atmosphere with colleagues, and do this around the world", says current Bailli Delegue de Taiwan Paul Wyss, modestly describing his club's sumptuous gatherings.
As Wyss stresses, Chaine des Rotisseurs is open to anyone that shares these interests. He adds that becoming a member actually makes one part of a global 25,000-member organization that spans 80 countries, where one can enjoy the same privileges and gatherings. In addition to Taiwan, Wyss himself has been involved with delegations in Hong Kong and South Korea. For those interested in joining the Taiwan delegation, there is a one-time membership fee of NT$10,000, with additional NT$6,000 annual fees.

For more information about Chaine des Rotisseurs, refer to their website at www.chaine-des-rotisseurs-taiwan.idv.tw or e-mail bailli@chaine-des-rotisseurs-taiwan.idv.tw