Last Saturday, we ate at Bruce’s Kitchen in the Ankang (安康) area of Xindian (新店), New Taipei City (a review will appear soon). Yesterday NOMM met with Bruce to find out more about his restaurant, his vision for a “different” kind of vegetarianism in Taiwan, and future plans. [This is the beginning of the interview, more will appear when time allows.]
NOMM: Perhaps we could start at the beginning: What led you to open a vegetarian restaurant up here in the hills overlooking southern Taipei.
Bruce: I opened my first restaurant in 2002. But its origins date back about three years earlier, to the 921 Earthquake [of September 21, 1999]. I was living in Taipei, on the 5th floor of a building near Wuxing Street, and suddenly in the middle of the night, the house started rocking, and plates and glasses and stuff was thrown off shelves and smashed on the floor. The next day, after the dust had settled, I brought my wife and daughter up her to the single-story farmhouse where I had grown up and which was then unoccupied. We felt safe here, and enjoyed the clean air, tranquility, and the distance from the chaos of Taipei. We decided to renovate the place and relocate here. I had always enjoyed cooking, and so later we decided to share our special place with other people, and open a restaurant.
NOMM: But not immediately?
Bruce: We immediately planted a herb garden, as I am passionate about herbs in cooking, but at that time I wasn’t even a vegetarian, and my first idea was to open a regular Italian-style restaurant in this nice location. Earlier in my life I’d lived in South Africa, and my favorite restaurant was had a simple menu—just pizzas, pastas and lasagna—but a great location in the vineyard country near Cape Town. That was kind of my ideal. Open style. Part of the environment.
But when we first lived here, I still had my own design company in Taipei doing post-production work. In that industry you tend to work at night and sleep by day, eating unhealthily and drinking too much. It was for my health that I became vegetarian in 2000. I am a Buddhist, but Buddhism for me is about the teachings and meditation, nothing to do with diet. And unlike Taiwan’s Buddhists, I eat onions and garlic. As someone from northern China [Bruce was born in Taiwan but his father, mother and four brothers were all born in pre-Communist China], I can easily go without seafood and meat, but without garlic I will die.
I had also decided not to work in an office again, and my wife backed my idea. For a year we lived on her income, and I traveled around Taiwan learning as much as I could about cooking and running a restaurant.