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(CNN) – For the first time in Taiwan, the gourmet dining train has just hit the track – and this stunning creation is rapidly gaining fans not only for its food, but also for its appearance.
The unveiling of the moving kitchen took place in March 2022 on Taipei’s Nangang train station platform – a surreal moment for Johnny Chiu, founder of Taipei-based JC Architecture.
Looking at the glamorous orange and black train, it’s hard to believe that when it first debuted in 2019, its original appearance was described by the local media as an “aesthetic disaster”.
Chiu redesigned the entire train, including the new Gourmet dining car, and the main reason for this former “crash” is now referred to as “Taiwan’s Most Beautiful Train.”
The letter that started it all
“In Taiwan, train travel has always been a big part of our lives,” Chiu told CNN Travel.
“From joining the army (military service is compulsory for men in Taiwan) to going home to celebrate the Lunar New Year, to meeting our girlfriends or grandmothers, to traveling by train is in everyone’s memory.”
“The kitchen bar looked almost like a hospital, with white plastic countertops and trash bins you could find on the street. And with the high flowers painted on the walls – it wasn’t really tasty. Everyone went crazy. Photos were on every media site and every social media. Account, “Chiu recalls.
Designed by Johnny Chiu, Moving Kitchen debuted in March 2022.
Lee Kuo-min Jesse Architecture
Sorry for the situation, Chiu wrote an open letter, inviting everyone to see it as an opportunity to modernize Taiwan’s railways, and hoped that someone would send his message to the TRA.
In response to the criticism, TRA has enlisted a team of creatives to find more eye-catching solutions. One of them saw Chiu’s open letter and reached out to him.
“I received an email reply, ‘Johnny, great. We’re glad you got this positive response. I’ll give you two weeks and please present your ideas to us,'” Chiu recalls.
After two weeks of sleepless nights and whiskey-infused brainstorming sessions, Chiu and his team present a plan to change the TRA. Soon after, they were rewarded for the project.
A 50 year old train is being built
Architect Johnny Chiu and his team were tasked with transforming this 50-year-old train in 2019.
Lee Kuo-min Jesse Architecture
But the real challenge had just begun.
The team had only seven months to rebuild the renovated orange train. Once known as the Chu-Kuang Express, it was an old diesel locomotive from the 1970s.
“We didn’t know it was an old train. We had to put everything inside and paint the whole thing again,” Chiu said.
They faced many challenges including power and structural problems.
Complex electrical wiring was needed to hide them. Meanwhile, safety standards were higher than their usual interior projects because train materials had to be flame-retardant and durable.
With the exception of hardware, it was difficult to persuade a 132-year-old government agency to go on board with these new design ideas.
“Taiwan does not represent railway design – it represents safety, punctuality and precision. But fortunately, the TRA director and vice director were able to make tough decisions and push the whole team with dedication and passion,” said Chiu.
The new design was assembled in seven months – and it was re-launched to the public at the end of 2019. The historic orange color remains, but has been enhanced by black to create a luxurious look
The team replicated the original retro Japanese-style font on the car’s lever.
The interior draws inspiration from Taiwan’s natural environment, with wood textures and black stone used to echo mountains and rock formations along Taiwan’s coast – where the train will cruise.
“We’ve also figured out how to get tickets. Like the Willie Wanker Chocolate Factory, you open an envelope to find a gold ticket and you’re gladly looking forward to your trip,” said Chew.
The Future 2.0: Taiwan’s first gourmet train
The lever of The Future was inspired by the orange color of the original train.
Lee Kuo-min Jesse Architecture
With a big win under his belt, TRA has advanced the production of The Future 2.0 – Moving Kitchen Gourmet train.
Victor Cheng is the senior director of Lion Travel, which handles train bookings.
“Gourmet trains were a familiar concept in Japan and Europe, but not Taiwan,” he told CNN Travel. “But the Taiwanese like trains and they like food – so combining the two was a logical and interesting move.”
As The Future’s only travel operator and Taiwan’s largest travel agency, Lion Travel spent more than a year curating its experience with JC Architecture and TRA before its unveiling in March.
“To be Taiwan’s first five-star gourmet train, we had to overcome some obstacles – lack of cooking water and electricity were the first two major problems,” Cheng said.
Drinking, cleaning and cooking require plenty of water. But there is limited storage space on board.
To solve the problem, fresh water and utensils are loaded into the train at the stop. Staffra also works closely with partnership caterers, the Silks Hotel Group, which operates luxury hotels and restaurants in Taiwan, to arrange the necessary equipment on board.
“The second challenge is to provide fine-dining restaurant service on a moving train. Our servers have spent a lot of time practicing a solid position while waiting on a shaky train. Every meal time also needs to be on point.” Cheng says.
The delivery of each course matches the feedback that passengers will see.
For example, the first course of a meal on a two-day trip is abalone. It is presented when the train arrives at Turtle Island, which is famous for mollusks.
The second course is a seafood salad on a blue dish, with a view of the sea on the east coast.
Then, as the food passes through various destinations, local specialties such as hot spring vegetables (vegetables grown in local hot spring water), ducks and sweet purple potatoes are displayed.
“And since this is a travel train, we don’t have a schedule to go from one station to another. We can slow down the train during some of the most beautiful routes. Near, “Cheng said.
A culinary journey
Moving Kitchen is Taiwan’s first gourmet train.
Cheng said that all parties involved in the project have tried their best to make the moving kitchen run smoothly.
“At the station where we stopped our train, there was an overcrowding that blocked parts of the sea view. Knowing this, TRA sent someone to pick weeds and prune trees for the journey,” Cheng said.
Train travel serves more than a culinary experience. It combines in-depth sightseeing activities such as visiting a local rice farm and a fishing port to get an idea of what they will eat on the train.
“So it’s not just a good meal on a moving train. Moving kitchen combines food, scenery and sights as a whole journey,” Cheng added.
Unlike the first edition of The Future, the renovation of moving kitchen cars took about a year, which gave more time for customization.
There are two new dining cars with 54 seats, as well as a new bar and a new kitchen The dining room has a mix of high bar counters, sofa booths and two to four seating tables.
“We’ve pushed the materials a little bit. We’ve brought marble from Hualien County and cane made by indigenous tribes in southern Taiwan,” Chiu said.
“I also come from the south of Taiwan. I remember sitting in my grandmother’s cane chair as a child because she ruined me with her cooking.”
The chairs feature cane from the south of Taiwan.
This inspired Chiu to design a special cane chair for the moving kitchen. The chairs can be fixed to the floor for safety but are designed to feel light.
The armrest has a 45-degree angle, allowing passengers to easily sit in their seats but “there is still an armrest chair that really exists in a nice dining restaurant” – with plenty of experience designing JC architecture.
Special spotlights were designed to make the food delicious and Instagram-friendly. A phone and menu stand are installed next to the table. A sculptural wall lamp allows passengers to change the shape of a thin foil lamp shade.
Sold until September
Cheng of Lion Travel told CNN Travel that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The Gourmet train was launched on March 30, and Moving Kitchen travel tickets are on sale until September.
“On the first ride, we had a dress code in orange and black – to go with the color of the train. We see a lot of people who get dressed for the occasion and can’t stop taking photos when they get on the train. We were all very inspired,” Cheng said. Says.
Moving Kitchen currently offers one or two day trips. Next time, guests leave the train and spend the night at a nearby hotel. There are six tours per month.
Six more train tours on The Future – besides the Moving Kitchen – are also available every month. These are seasonally themed and last from one to four days. The Future Train has four business class cars, each with 33 seats.
“I’m very proud of this train. Because I think it’s uniquely Taiwanese. I think it’s a success because the train gives this 132-year-old company confidence. And there’s a saying that if TRA can do it, so can other members of the public sector.” Chiu says.
“I think there’s a lot more history and culture that we can find out and publish in a new storyline. So I’m really glad this one letter changed the public sector.”