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The food ambassador

Hugo Wang has devoted his life to popularising Taiwanese food in Delhi with the ‘right balance’ For the Indian palette

Hugo Wang, 36, a chef who belongs to a reputed family of chefs from Taiwan, has a strange love for Delhi that defies logic. Sometimes, particularly in the case of Hugo, logic has its own limitations. He has been living in Delhi for more than three years.

Wang likes the city life here for it gives ample opportunity to meet people of different backgrounds and ethnicity, and encourages friendships. “The city forces people to get out of their houses, meet and get to know each other, make friends,” he says describing what makes Delhi special for him. This sort of bonhomie is peculiar to Delhi, he stresses, despite Delhi’s hot and sultry weather these days and pollution, which obliges people to stay indoors. About a year back his wife Ibiza and two-year-old son Vishnu shifted to Delhi to live with him.

He first came to India in 2011 to do a course with the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. He loved the city and the country. He found people engaging and he decided to work here at some point in time. Back in Taiwan, he established himself as a chef of a certain repute. But he was not satisfied, he was looking for something challenging, a change of scene and an opening that would allow him to experiment with cuisine. India, in that sense, was a known devil which is better than an angel.

Shifting to Delhi in 2015, he decided to open a Taiwanese sweet shop, the first of its kind, in India. It took more than a year to open an outlet in Lajpat Nagar under the banner of his company, Moon of Taj. It was a harrowing — and at the same time — learning experience for Hugo to deal with Indian local authorities. He marketed his sweets well and became a sensation at parties, marriages and a preferred gift on festivals.

When the shop started to do well, Hugo had a change of heart. He wanted to diversify into food in general and not be confined to dessert. He co-founded another company that endeavours to introduce authentic Chinese-Taiwanese-Japanese food in India. The Indian variation of Chinese food is a popular snack, but with too much of spices and salt. He plans to introduce traditional Asian food, use Indian ingredients, and try maintain a balance.

“Balance is the thing that’s lacking. I tell my chefs, that it shouldn’t be bland like back home, it has to be appealing to the Indian palette and at the same time preserve its original essence,” explains Hugo.

He works seven days a week, experimenting with dishes in a kitchen facility in Kailash Colony which looks more like a food laboratory. He’s training as many as a dozen Indian cooks assisted by a compatriot from Taiwan. If all goes as per plan, Wang plans to make Asian food a big hit in the capital, without the usual overdose of oil and spice.

He recognises, and admires, the fact that in India, traditional eating habits are ingrained in the psyche of people, unlike China where they are open to new palettes. In the case of India, as they say, old habits die hard. So, Wang’s strategy is: instead of attempting to transform the Indian palette, he seeks to introduce traditional Asian food for Indian taste, which won’t be bland to eat. “Balance doesn’t mean strong,” he qualifies, referring to the excessive use of oil and spices.

A happy family: Hugo with his wife Ibiza and son Vishnu

He’s acutely aware that it would be a challenge to maintain world class standards. Chefs under his tutelage are trained to maintain consistency of flavours with special care for hygiene, art, food plating and presentation.

Beyond working hours that seem to linger on, Wang is quite a party animal. He was known to attend three parties in an evening on weekends before his family moved in. In the last few years, Wang has made many friends, not just the natives but expats from other countries. He walks into a party, makes it a point to have a chat with all present, get to know strangers and take the trouble of keeping in touch with them. Those who are lucky get to savour his unique ‘Asian’ cuisines. His amicable persona, and a fair bit of curiosity to know people, makes him an instant hit in a party. He has, in the process, though not intentionally, developed an army of potential supporters for his unique project in Delhi.

Food is the way to hearts. Who knows this better than Wang. he often cooks for friends, or takes his unique dishes and sweets to various parties to introduce people to something new food. He and his food are well received. Not just that, he’s a true ambassador of his country, a fact that Taiwan’s representative office. For instance, he is supporting the office’s effort to popularise Taiwan as a venue for destination weddings.

His son Vishnu who’s approaching his third birthday goes to the French International School. Wang wants his son to be acquainted with the European way of life, not the US. It’s tough for the two-year-old: he is exposed to four languages — a version of Mandarin is spoken at home, English, French and Hindi outside. “He sometimes speaks sentences that contain words of four languages. Many a times I don’t understand what my son is saying,” he laughs. Vishnu’s teachers have assured Wang that this confusion will disappear when he grows older.

Chef Wang looks deceptively gullible, his mild manner is his biggest asset. He’s interested in people and food, and he’s invariably successful in all his ventures. Delhi is not an easy place to work, he’s realised the hard way. He does feel frustrated at times, particularly when his Indian co-workers don’t turn up on time, but nothing really deters him from following his passion, a first-of-its kind project by a Taiwanese national in India. His strength of conviction in his vision, and perseverance will make him, for sure, one of the most popular Taiwanese in India.