Italian fare with a Taiwanese twist

Pasadena chef Bryant Wigger can whip up delicious Italian dishes, like his signature veal scaloppini and rigatoni bolognese. But the executive chef at Trattoria Neapolis, known for American-Italian fusion, is also introducing Taiwanese fare to the menu after an eight-day trip to Taiwan.

Chef Bryant Wigger addresses the crowd.

Wigger, 35, was one of three American chefs selected to be on Discovery Channel's new show Taste Taiwan, airing Feb. 15 at 8 a.m. Wigger flew to Taiwan in December to learn about Taiwanese cuisine and fare from chefs and street vendors, as well as acquaint himself with new styles and ingredients from across the globe.

The chef of over 18 years hosted on Jan. 14 a private event at Trattoria Neapolis to celebrate his return and present new Italian and Taiwanese dishes, like roasted suckling pig porchetta, nero squid ink pizza, and the mouthwatering five spice roasted pork belly, which combines polenta with Chinese broccoli and dried baby shrimp. We spoke to Wigger about his first trip to Taiwan and his favorite dishes here in the San Gabriel Valley.

What struck you most about Taiwan and Taiwanese food?

I think the thing I love about Taiwanese food is that they put together the best of the food from the sea and the food from the land. We would have hot pot — so you have things like duck blood, rib eye — but then you also have things like shrimp and fish balls. All these things put together. I fell in love with the dried baby shrimp, that’s my favorite. So I put the dried baby shrimp with the five spice roasted pork belly, the dish that I prepared that represents Taiwan.

Chef Wigger answers questions about his trip to Taiwan.

Your five spice roasted pork belly combines Italian and Chinese ingredients.  Was it difficult to fuse together the two cuisines?

It’s such a close comparison. In Taiwan, you have dumplings; Italy has raviolis. Taiwan has rice noodles, where as Italy has spaghetti. You have all the same kinds of things, but with a different flour or process of how it goes together. So for me, it’s easier to put together if you think of it that way.

So for example, for a dumpling, I’d put together something like duck with rosemary and dried cherries instead of pork. I use the ingredients that I’m more used to but the technique of Asian cooking.

Have the San Gabriel Valley’s diverse food offerings influenced your cooking technique and the types of dishes you like to prepare?

Not so much in the restaurant, but I’m always on the lookout for a great place to eat. I love to go out for ramen and definitely dumplings. All my cooks are from around this area so they give me a lot of little places that no one knows about except for the locals.

I found a great place the other day that serves pho until 4 o’clock in the morning. That’s great because I get out of work late.

Chef Bryant Wigger prepares the five spice pork belly.

Do you have any other favorite restaurants?

I like to go to Din Tai Fung — just not on Sundays. We found out that Monday afternoon at around 3 o’clock is the perfect time to go because no one’s there. You can walk right in. I like going to Daikokuya. I think their ramen is phenomenal. I get their rice with the barbecue pork on top and I got two meals right there.

Where would you like to go next?

Oh gosh, that’s tough. I've been to Asia, a lot of Europe. I think I'm going to try to go to South America or Central America. I would love to go to Africa, but it’s a 33-hour long flight.

I definitely want to go back to Asia because the people are so nice, especially when you tell them why you’re there and what you do. Like you say, “I’m a cook,” and they’re like, “I do this,” and “I do that.” They’re so willing to share their experience with you, and that was really great.

Editor's note: Interview was edited and condensed.

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