After travelling over 9000 kilometres each, from Taipei to New Zealand to set up home in a new country, neither Amber Huang nor Don Chen expected to find love in a small country town. Yet that is exactly what happened. ‘We were both working at Farmers Corner in Ashburton when we met,’ shares Amber. ‘It felt like destiny to have come all this way to meet the man I would marry.’
And it was not only each other that they fell in love with, but the ‘peaceful, quiet’ nature of their adopted home. ‘We love Ashburton and wanted to contribute to the local community and bring something different to the culinary scene,’ she continues.
Drawing on their heritage, the couple opened their restaurant, Formosa, in November 2017 and haven’t looked back. An experienced chef, Don has relished the opportunity to create his own menu and delights in sharing the ‘simple, clean and tasty’ dishes with their diners.
Amber laughs as she recalls opening the restaurant. ‘We had no business experience, it was very risky.’ Coupled with a new business was the fact that Amber was just about to have their first baby and has since gone on to have their second. ‘Formosa is our third child,’ she laughs. She describes their recipe to success as hard work, patience and passion. ‘Opening something new is easy – keeping the excitement is harder. Every day must be better than the day before to make sure we live up to our guests’ expectations. It’s like every day is a new launch.’
Nestled on the main street of Ashburton, the restaurant is the embodiment of the couple – warm, inviting and colourful. Broken into three areas across two floors, there is the dining area, the Chinese Lantern room – a VIP area which can seat up to 20 people, and the Red Parasol drinks area – a cosy space for a quick bite to eat or an after-work drink. As well as in-house dining and events, Formosa also offers a catering service, takeaway options, and this summer will open for afternoon tea with a special high-tea menu and cabinet desserts available. And they don’t plan to stop there, with a dream to open a second Formosa in Nelson in the near future.
Describing their menu as modern Asian cuisine, Amber is quick to reassure that unlike Chinese food which many Kiwis are more readily familiar with, Taiwanese cuisine isn’t heavy or oily, and they pride themselves on sourcing local high-quality ingredients. ‘Being able to source and work with local ingredients from Ashburton and across Canterbury is incredibly special,’ concludes Amber. ‘Creating modern, beautiful dishes that are full of flavour is what is important to us, and our local suppliers make it that much easier.’
Meaning beautiful isle, Formosa was the name given to Taiwan by passing Portuguese mariners in 1544 and is now becoming synonymous locally for beautiful food and exceptional service.
Formosa Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao Chicken is a classic dish loaded with spicy chicken, peanuts and vegetables in a mouth-watering hot sauce. This easy homemade recipe is healthy and has so many flavours going on: tangy, sweet and salty with a hint of heat.
- 3 tbsp oil
- 250 g chicken drums
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed and sliced
- 1 small thumb of chopped ginger
- 2 dried red chillies, deseeded and chopped (these can be quite spicy, so adjust according to your own taste)
- 1 tsp Sichuan or Chinese pepper
- 1 spring onion, sliced
- 50 g onion, sliced
- 50 g red or green bell pepper or capsicum, sliced
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp roasted peanuts
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok over high heat. Sear the chicken, remove from the wok to a bowl and set aside. Still on high heat, add another tablespoon of oil and sauté the garlic, ginger, chillies, Sichuan or Chinese pepper, onions and capsicum. Cook for a minute or two until fragrant. Add the chicken back to the wok and stir-fry for a minute.
In a bowl, make the sauce combining the soy sauces (dark soy sauce is used for colour and smell, the other for its salty taste) and sugar then add this to the wok and stir-fry for another minute. The sauce should thicken very quickly.
Finally, add the peanuts. Give everything a final stir and serve.
Words Lucinda Diack