TRANSLATION | Eugenia Yang
位居北緯 23.5 度的浪漫，造就了豐厚多元的島嶼資源，四序流轉的更迭美景，恰映現於九芎樹的時令感知，伴出芽、著花、落葉、凋零傾吐堅毅，猶如主廚 Wes 之於 EMBERS 的創立初衷，「我希望 EMBERS 的套餐感受，是細膩、美好、深究的，並在十年後成為台灣料理的一部份，建立自己的傳統。」
2022 年獲米其林綠星餐廳肯定，足以顯現 EMBERS 與自然共處的永續使命，若將光陰向前推移，或許 Wes 從未想過自己與山林原野竟有如此深遠因緣。起家於士林夜市串炸攤位、勝力食堂，簡單親民的日式料理獲得廣大喜愛，卻坦言三十歲那年是人生一大轉捩點，「回顧自己所有的經歷，會發現我其實沒有志向，因為很早就出社會，我的志向變成了等值的財富。很茫然，也做過其他行業，餐飲是心底深層的嚮往，是自己所擅長的，但稱不上是專長。」爾後開設好福食研室，便是 Wes 給自我重新學習的機會，著眼在地食材並以農業角度出發，更親身踏入部落農地，感受種種文化衝擊與新鮮體驗，笑答是一種幸運，透過不斷積累與反芻，食材教導了他如何料理，從製作中詮釋多方可能，「像火焰一樣，燃燒的過程都是一種消化，對我而言，成了一種價值觀，也大概成為一種信仰吧！」堅韌語調中，悄然解釋了 EMBERS 餘燼之意，野火燎原後的恆溫靜好，愈加彌足珍貴。
令人眼睛為之一亮的開胃菜非「果實檳榔」莫屬，以假蒟和沙梨橄欖製成的擬真檳榔，具有熱情迎賓的翫味象徵，試圖用你我熟稔的台味訴說餐桌上的風土軼聞。談起 EMBERS 的料理核心，主廚 Wes 表示「我們想要做的是一加一加一等於一，一道料理的發生需要三個元素：風味、鮮味、口感，所要做的事情就是詮釋一個焦點。」跳脫傳統西餐的主菜框架，藉由十二道餐點的描述空間，進而認識並理解食材所能呈現的純粹多元，他更以硬柿甜點舉例，當中含有橄欖油、冰淇淋、烏魚子，炙烤過後的柿子帶出起司風味，慕斯裡蘊藏了一顆全熟籽，欲罷不能的Q彈嚼勁，為 Wes 自身對柿子的期待，軟綿卻不失脆感，滿足了所有人對於柿子的想像。道道兼具趣味與亮點的佳餚，Wes 則透露自己不喜歡「創新」一詞，「每一次料理創作的過程，我們知道食材新的可能，這些知新來自於溫故，一定有些根據、DNA 的這種記憶，大自然的起承轉合，我們是可以看見的。」結尾以一碗溫潤湯品暖胃，劃下心滿意足的句點。
質樸卻充滿細節，體現於 EMBERS 的擺件、桌椅、吧台，暖黃氤氳的氣息彷若隱隱釋放著山林能量。對於店內最喜愛的一隅，Wes 表示每個角落都很喜歡，尤其是步入餐廳所見的牆角光景，由三顆石頭搭配季節植被，於他而言，則是種儀式感的存在，「因為它是一種宣告，三顆石頭立起來的地方就是廚房，是各族原住民很重要的生活準則。」汲取祖靈文化對萬物的敬仰之心，亦展現了與大自然連結的安定靜謐。擁有勤於向學的個人特質，卻笑說自己幾乎不讀料理書籍，反而傾向不同的知識畛域，自抽象、哲學、設計乃至學術性論文，所蘊蓄的知識涵養為創作擴充了無限面向，「藉由料理才讓我有機會去獲取新知與資訊，這是我喜歡這個行業很重要的動力。」放眼未來規劃，Wes 緩緩道出「好好生活」四字，隨即透露近期正與朋友撰寫青草書籍，冀望植物更能貼近人們生活，也透過青草了解在地民俗文化、多元族群和地理特徵，「我們要期許的是那個將來，台灣人能夠自信地處在國際上，活出自己的樣貌。」背負重重使命，眼底閃爍著熠熠光芒，著實令人期盼 Wes 所言的來日。
Located at latitude 23.5 degrees north and surrounded by rich, diverse natural resources, the changing landscapes perfectly reflect the seasonality of the Crape Myrtle. From sprouting, flowering, defoliating to withering, the process is emblematic of Chef Wes Guo’s reason to open EMBERS. “I want the dining experience at EMBERS to be delicate, beautiful and in-depth and I hope that in ten years my restaurant will become a part of Taiwanese cuisine, one that holds its own traditions.”
When Food becomes Philosophy
Being awarded the Michelin Green Star in 2022 is sufficient to showcase EMBERS’s sustainable mission to coexist with nature. If we rewind time, perhaps Guo never expected to build such a profound connection with the wilderness. Having started his culinary journey from Shilin Night Market and Katsu Katsu Fried Food, he gained popularity by making simple but heartfelt Japanese food. However, the year he turned 30 became a pivoting point in his life. “When I look back at my past experiences, I realize I actually had no goal. Since I started working at a young age, my goal became equivalent to making money. Lost, I tried other industries as well, but culinary is what I really wanted to do. Perhaps it is not my expertise, but it is something that I am good at.” Good Food Lab became Guo’s chance to learn, not just about cooking but also about himself. From an agricultural perspective, he set his focus on local ingredients and even visited indigenous farms to experience the distinctive cultures. Laughing, he saw the experience as a blessing, a chance to allow the ingredients to teach him a lesson. Through constant reflection and accumulation, Guo was able to test out different possibilities. “Just like fire, the burning process is about digesting. To me, it became a value that I strongly believe in.” Cleverly explaining the meaning behind the name of the restaurant, his determination echoes with the aftermath of a wildfire and its peaceful, precious beauty.
Finding the Origin
A gem of the menu is undoubtedly one of the appetizers that mocks betel nut. Made of piper sarmentosum and ambarella, the dish is a symbol of warm welcome that tells the story of local customs with the familiar Taiwanese flavors. With the culinary concept of EMBERS in mind, Guo points out, “What we want to show is that one plus one plus one equals one. In order to create a dish, you need three elements—flavor, freshness, texture—and one singular focus.” Breaking the limitations of traditional western cuisines, he designed a 12-course menu that allows his guests to understand the purity and diversity of the ingredients. For example, the persimmon dessert is crafted with olive oil, ice cream and mullet roe. While the fruit is grilled to bring out its cheesy flavor, the mousse comes with a fully ripened seed that is extremely chewy. Soft without losing its crispiness, the dessert fulfills everyone’s imagination and Guo’s expectation for the fruit. Despite having created dish after dish that are fun and interesting, he actually does not like the word “innovate.” “In the process of creating each dish, we find new potential for the ingredients. These new knowledge comes from the past, from traces of old memories. It is like a cycle of nature, something that is visible to the human eye.” Ending the circle with a warm bowl of soup, the last dish ends the set menu on a satisfying, heartwarming note.
With Culture and Heritage
From the ornaments, tables and chairs, to the counter, everything at EMBERS is simple but filled with details. It is almost as if the warm ambiance of the place pulsates with the energy of nature. While Guo finds every corner of the restaurant to his liking, he is particularly fond of the entrance, where three rocks and seasonal vegetation are located. To him, the corner is an existence of rituals. “It is a declaration. The place where three stones are stacked is where the kitchen is located, an important living guideline to all aboriginal people.” Drawing inspiration from the ancestral culture’s reverence towards nature, the interior showcases the peace found in natural connections. Always eager to learn, Guo laughs and says he almost never reads books about culinary. Instead, he is more interested in other fields of study such as abstract theory, philosophy, design and academic papers. The knowledge he accumulated further expands the infinite aspects of his creative process. “Through cooking, I get the chance to constantly learn about new things, which is where my passion for this industry and my motivation come from.” In terms of future plans, Guo only has one wish—to live life properly. Currently writing a book on herbs with his friend, he wants to bring herbs closer to people’s lives and to understand local cultures, diverse ethnic groups and geographical features through the study of plants. “What we want to hope for is that in the future, Taiwanese people will be able to show who they are with absolute confidence to the world,” Guo explains his mission as his eyes gleam with dedication, making us look forward to the day when his vision becomes reality.