An Italian Entrepreneur Realizing 'His Meaning of Life' in Taiwan
Il Mercato, an all-glass market-restaurant in Taipei, has become the most unbookable high-class authentic Italian restaurant in Taiwan since its opening, and it all started from the deepest respect for the ethnic-Italian American's grandfather.
An Italian Entrepreneur Realizing 'His Meaning of Life' in TaiwanBy Min Chou
When Michael de Prenda, the ethnic-Italian American husband of a Taiwanese, came to Taiwan to learn Chinese 20 years ago, he was deeply captivated by the phrase “做生意”.
It means “doing business.” Yet literally, it means “doing meaning of life.” This sent a sudden shock of inspiration to him. “Then I’m in the right place,” he thought.
His following moves in Taiwan were not news—meeting his wife Annie Chao, in-charge manager at Rimowa Taiwan, having three children, and living happily ever after. But a deeper level of his “meaning of life” had not been realized until 2017, when he opened his restaurant market in Tianmu—Il Mercato (‘market’ in Italian).
Michael de Prenda, founder of Il Mercato, and his wife Annie Chao (Image: Mingtang Huang)
This level of “meaning of life”can be traced back to his grandfather, an Italian who served the U.S. army during World War II, and got promoted as the Representative of Veterans during the presidency of Nixon and Kennedy.
“My grandfather had always come over on time to take care of me,” he recalled the days when his mother was fully occupied by work. “He influenced me a lot.” His grandfather was a man who put family before becoming a successful politician. “If he had not put family first, I would not be me as I am today.”
Il Mercato (Source: Mingtang Huang)
Gathering Famous Italian Chefs to Taipei
To him, “meaning of life” was about paying respect to his grandfather, and becoming recognized as an Italian. Bearing this in mind, he devoted himself to introducing authentic Italian cuisine to Taiwan.
His story moved the world-famous chef Enrico Derflingher, legendary sommelier Giuseppe Vaccarini, and many other experts of Italian cuisine. Today, eight Italian Chefs have lit up the kitchen in Tianmu.
Michelin-starred Chef Enrico was not only the first Italian chef to the British Royals, but also the most-invited personal chef to Prime Ministers of Italy, and to former president of the United States George Bush Senior. Lately, he has been active in Japan, while at the same time being elected as President of Euro-Toques International.
Cellar of Il Mercato (Source: Mingtang Huang)
The most heard-of legend of the sommelier Giuseppe Vaccarini was about his ability to identify hundreds of different wines with his nose at the age of 14, before he could even legally drink wine. He became the first Italian to break the dominant position of the French in the “Best Sommelier in the World” contest. In 2017, he led the cellar of Il Mercato to win high praise from critics of Gambero Rosso.
Sowing the Seeds of A Real-Italian Diet
With a stroll through the market beside the restaurant, one gets to have a taste of the everyday life of Italians from the coffee, cheese, olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, pastries and ice cream provided.
In the back of the bar stands a gigantic Italian ice-cream-maker from the most seasoned brand, whipping a fluffy flavor into the milk from local smallholder farms. A whole shelf of made-in-Italy canned vegetables that can be served as perfect ingredients for “Antipasti” (traditional first courses of a formal Italian meal) with formulas designed by head chefs, embodies the essence of authentic Italian cuisine.
The Italian ice cream maker from the brand with the longest history (Source: Mingtang Huang)
Italians are known for preserving freshness of foods with olive oil. Having a long history in canning fresh vegetables for cold seasons, Italians soak foods in extra virgin olive oil to block out the air and prolong the freshness.
Italians are used to “starting the pleasure of a meal” with a glass of wine and a nibble of fresh pickles, but the key to a pleasant Italian meal still lies in the quality and original taste of the ingredients, concluded Chef Enrico.
Made-in-Italy prime canned vegetables in extra virgin olive oil (Source: Mingtang Huang)
Thus, in addition to high-quality imported foods, De Prenda started a farm on an island in Taipei City (Shezi Island 社子島), growing Italian-origin vegetables, spices, and edible flowers, with a goal to improving traceability of all foods and ingredients.
On the land the Italian-American now calls home, the restaurant continues to pay tribute to his Italian heritage and to his grandfather by sowing the seeds of authentic Italian cuisine and making his grandfather proud.
Translated by Sharon Tseng.
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