The Italian Job, Taiwan Style

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courtesy of K2 Cucina

Dishing it up Craving real Italian in Taichung? To K2 and J-Ping with you

In their mid-30s, some executives suddenly get religion. J. Ping got Italy. Thanks to this former marketer for Nike, and his longtime girlfriend Julia Lin, a onetime China Airlines stewardess, the booming Taiwan city of Taichung is now home to two of the island's most authentic showcases of Italian cuisine.

The bespectacled chef said he found his true calling the moment his hands started to make dough for ciabatta — still one of the best products available daily at his cheery K2 Cucina, tel: (886-4) 2326 9091. He and Lin also make their own sausage and pancetta, and they serve only three-year-aged Parmesan as well as the best lemon cake this side of Palermo.

At their more refined J-Ping Café, tel: (886-4) 2302 3580, a reservations-only operation set in a softly lit converted house, they sometimes miss the mark with a duck-breast entrée more Gallic than Italic and a walnut-encrusted foie gras Popsicle that's tasty but too nouvelle. But the toothsome authenticity of their pasta dishes is enough to cause a stir among Taichung's uninitiated.

"In the beginning, our diners wanted everything cooked softer or covered in tomato sauce. We had to slowly teach them how Italian is different from American Italian, Japanese Italian or Taiwanese Italian," says Lin.

The couple, who make pilgrimages to their spiritual homeland three times a year to replenish their recipes and faith, sponsor wine workshops and are sometimes called up to lecture local Rotary clubs and others. They've also opened a new venture in the capital Taipei, Solo Pasta Cucina Italiana, tel: (886-2) 2775 3645. While Taiwan remains without a proper Italian embassy, this proselytizing couple seems more than ready to take on the job.