Howard is a lucky man. His wife can cook. Jennifer cooks with passion, a love of people and the food that connects them, and an interest in re-creating the north American food her husband enjoys. And now she has opened Shaffer’s Kitchen, an elegant and welcoming restaurant hidden in a small alleyway in central Xinyi.
Jennifer and Howard met in 1975 when Howard was a student in Taipei. They married two years later. From speaking with them, food (at that time cheap student eats) was an issue that united them. And as a new bride, Jennifer went to great lengths to find the ingredients and learn the methods for cooking north American and European style foods. At first this was difficult: pancakes are not the same without baking powder, and it is hard to substitute Crisco for butter or lard if you don’t know what it is.
Jennifer grew up in a family that liked to cook. Her Mum was raised in the Japanese colonial era when the slow-food culture of eating seasonally and fermenting and making your own preserves was a natural part of life. The family would make their own pickles and sea-salt plums in their rambling home in Taoyuan, even buying up to 100 jin (over 50kg) of passionfruit to preserve it in syrup at home. This concept of eating with the seasons and preserving leftovers seems like something an Italian nonna would do, yet it was an everyday part of her upbringing.
But it is more than food that motivates Jennifer: as we talk, she becomes distracted by a baby, who she instinctively reaches across to cuddle. Once she has finished cooing and returns to the conversation, she explains: “Look at what people eat, and how they eat. Food is a way to communicate with people,” she explains. And cooking is something tactile. She makes her bread, including rolls and English muffins, from scratch which can at times be difficult as the humidity of Taipei can interfere with measurements. “You need to feel the bread dough, to understand its texture,” she says.
After they retired from running a footwear manufacturing company, Jennifer realised her dream of opening her own restaurant. Shaffer’s Kitchen was born in the middle of May. While it remains a hidden secret in the cluster of restaurants and art galleries in the space between the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and the Taipei City Hall MRT station, they have a loyal and growing following of repeat customers. The key ingredient seems to be Jennifer’s dedication to reproducing authentic North American and European style food. Which explains why she can bake half decent scones (a rarity in Taiwan), lemon curd (she calls it custard) that tastes like something from my Nana’s cupboard, deli-delicious roast beef sliders (soft white rolls with sliced beef and horseradish) and that her menu features retro classics such as beef Wellington and biscuits & gravy.
Sourcing reliable sources of fresh produce and recruiting staff who understand her passion for doing things the right way has been difficult. Gordon Ramsay would be proud of her insistence of making things from scratch rather than relying on pre-mixes. But not all of her employees have agreed, at times wanting to rely on yellow egg powder or instant gravy in sauces. Yet she has held firm to her beliefs, and now has a team in the kitchen who understand her vision.
For Christmas and Thanksgiving, Jennifer went to great lengths to ensure quality. She would not accept frozen turkeys, and instead contacted Taiwan’s turkey breeders association to locate the ideal bird. Eventually, she found a breeder in Tainan who not only bred his own birds but even made their feed. Nor did she spare attention to getting the pumpkin pie just right. While there are no shortages of pumpkins and other gourds in Taiwan, most varieties are too watery and she tried five or six before she found some that were the right consistency. Husband Howard interjected that the turkey was good, but that the roast rib steak she created especially for the Thanksgiving and Christmas menu was exceptional. (Jennifer is featuring it again for Shaffer’s Kitchen’s special New Year’s Eve menu.)
Shaffer’s Kitchen is amongst the cluster of restaurants, cafes and art galleries in between Sun Yat-sen Memorial, Taipei City Hall and the MRT station. Address if No 16, Lane 50, Yixian Road (台北市信義區逸仙路50巷16號(實體位置是42巷5號旁邊). They are open on New Year’s Eve for two services: 5.30pm to 9.30pm, or a late night from 10.00pm to 2.00am. They welcome people to stop by for champagne and/or hot cider. Ring 02 8789 4088 for bookings.
Taiwanxifu visited Shaffer’s Kitchen at their invitation to participate in a tasting event.