Pierre Chen: An Epicurean Odyssey

Pierre Chen: An Epicurean Odyssey

The origin story behind two world-class collections – one of art, one of wine – and how, from their common philosophy of sharing, a new restaurant is born.
The origin story behind two world-class collections – one of art, one of wine – and how, from their common philosophy of sharing, a new restaurant is born.

T o many, Pierre Chen is known first and foremost for his art collection. A well-known story explains its beginnings: in 1976, while studying at university in Tainan, Taiwan, he became enamoured with a sculpture by Cheung Yee in a downtown gallery. Using money saved from working two part-time jobs, he purchased it for $600. Today, among his world-renowned collection of Modern and post-war masterpieces, this first piece still enjoys pride of place in his office at the Yageo Corporation, the global electronic component company Chen founded in 1977. Less well-known is that this story also represents the origin of a personal journey into creativity in its broader expressions: art, but also gastronomy, wine and life itself.

Chen’s initial interest in wine began within his family who, somewhat unconventionally, enjoyed it together at home at a time when most Taiwanese people preferred whisky. As he began working and travelling, he discovered the wines of France, Italy and California, and soon started collecting Bordeaux, as was customary for budding collectors three decades ago. Compelled to learn more, he immersed himself in traditional wine studies and became familiar with the qualities of different regions and makers.

Pierre Chen, visionary epicurean and aesthete

Through exploration, he concluded that, while Bordeaux’s powerful wines with their fine dry tannins paired well with lamb or beef, from a culinary standpoint, Burgundy’s wines were more versatile and better suited to his lifestyle in Taiwan – where the cuisine features abundant fresh seafood. Thus he decided to forgo classic pairing rules and to rely instead on his own experience as a guide. It was the choice of an epicure, not a collector, one that reflects an abiding passion for food and wine, and a belief that to fully appreciate a fine wine requires creative input. “It is not so difficult, if you have financial resources, to buy good wine or make a reservation in a good restaurant. The question is deciding upon the pairing of wine and food. I am interested in how they can enhance one another,” he explains. Indeed, for Chen, there is one further vital element – people, whose tastes he always plays into his pairings.

At the same time as exploring these revelatory complementarities, he was also assembling the group of eastern and western masterpieces that now comprise the Yageo Foundation Collection. These works are regularly loaned to institutions including London’s Tate Modern and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. The same principle of generosity applies to his impeccably curated wine collection: bottles are acquired to be opened, shared and enjoyed.

Today, Chen enjoys dining in his art-filled home as much as being in a restaurant. He is a talented cook and, when entertaining friends at home, he prefers teppanyaki-style cooking. Grilled seasonal produce is served at a thoughtfully arranged table with carefully considered wines from his collection.

“Every epicure dreams of owning a vineyard. When Chen imagined himself producing a wine to go with the foods he enjoys every day, he reflected on his passion for burgundy”

Or he may open one of his own wines. At some point, after all, every epicure dreams of owning a vineyard. When Chen imagined producing a wine to accompany the foods he enjoys every day, he reflected on his passion for Burgundy and the wines that inspire him: the vibrant layers of plum and cherry in the 1971 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche; and the balanced opulence of the 1976 Faiveley Musigny. He researched whether it would be possible to purchase a parcel in one of the region’s celebrated climats. After searching for several years, in 2015 he acquired a small parcel in Musigny, the Grand Cru vineyard on the Côte de Nuits, in partnership with Domaine Faiveley, which oversees its viticultural management and wine production. Each year, the domaine provides Chen with regular updates on the weather and vineyard activity and, in fulfilment of his longtime dream, 25 to 30 cases of the Musigny in magnum.

THE DOMAINE FAIVELEY CABOTTE (A TRADITIONAL BURGUNDIAN BUILDING TO SHELTER WORKERS) WITHIN THE CLOS DE VOUGEOT VINEYARD. PHOTO CREDIT: SERGE CHAPUIS, MARK VOLK Serge CHAPUIS

Far from settling down, however, Chen continues to seek out new gourmet experiences around the world. He knows and highly regards many chefs in Paris, Taiwan and Japan, and views dining in their restaurants as an opportunity to create a memorable experience together. He calls ahead to ask about the menu, so he can make an informed decision about what bottle to bring to accompany the meal. “I like to share the wine with chefs,” Chen explains. “They don’t always have the opportunity to experience firsthand how these wines match with their cuisine, and are used to relying on their sommeliers.” He also enjoys providing educational wine experiences for talented young sommeliers, to ensure their knowledge of food and wine pairings is more than academic.

Le Restaurant Blanc

Meanwhile, after six years in development, he has embarked on the next stage of his own epicurean journey with the opening of Le Restaurant Blanc in Paris. Created in collaboration with Shinichi Sato, the first Japanese chef in France to be awarded two Michelin stars, it arrived in the 16th arrondissement in September. Offering a finely honed dining experience, hosted within graceful interiors designed by architect Kengo Kuma, it extends the philosophy of sharing that Chen practises at home out into the public sphere.

Pierre Chen with Chef Shinichi Sato

“Sato and I share a very similar sensibility. He selects the best ingredients and cooks them simply, keeping the original f lavour, the essence,” Chen observes. Sato also shares Chen’s ardour for wine, particularly from Burgundy, having worked at Domaine Dujac and Domaine Roulot. As the restaurant’s head sommelier, Chen has curated a distinguished wine list numbering 7,000 bottles, including hidden gems and selections designed to provide exceptional menu pairings.

Chen and Sato are well-matched as partners: both subscribe to a vision guided by delicacy, simplicity and finesse; both understand that simplicity can be deceptive; and both are motivated to share their aesthetic vision with a wider public. “When I received two Michelin stars for Passage 53 in 2011, the restaurant only had 20 seats,” says Sato. “I wanted to go further but it wasn’t possible in such a small space. Then Mr Chen said he could help.” It was a turning point. “Many people are often just concerned with the financial side of a partnership, but Mr Chen has refined taste as well. He knows about gastronomy and wine, and drinks exceptional wine every day.”

“For Pierre Chen, everything in life connects to his core values of excellence, harmony and generosity”

For Chen, everything in life connects to his core values of excellence, harmony and generosity. Over a deeply personal voyage of discovery spanning 30 years, he has assembled an extraordinary cellar of great wines. Its purpose was always to be shared and celebrated, initially among close friends and esteemed chef-collaborators. But, as the artfully curated cellar grows in line with his passion and knowledge, he now revels in sharing a small but significant portion through the global auction series The Epicurean’s Atlas.

This historic series presents highlights across five landmark auctions, the first of which takes place in Hong Kong on 24 and 25 November and offered a range of bottles reflecting the scope and quality of the singular cellar. Each of the four remaining auctions is devoted to a different type of wine or aspect of the collection. Next in the series are The Ultimate Champagnes and Live in the Vines, to be held in July 2024 in Paris and Beaune, respectively. Collectively, the series represents Chen’s latest creative chapter – one he has chosen to share with the global community of epicureans, each on a journey of their own.

The Epicurean's Atlas

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