Joanne Chang is a Boston chef, author and restaurant owner. She is the owner of the ever-popular Flour Bakery, which at the time of this publication, has 9 locations in Boston and Cambridge.
She also co-owns the sensational restaurant Myers and Chang, with her husband, Christopher, in Boston’s South End. Additionally, she is the author of 4 cookbooks, which are all excellent, and one of the many reasons I was delighted to interview her for this article. Read on to learn more about Joanne.
Before you pursued a career in the food industry, you worked as a management consultant. What inspired you to pursue a different career path and what was it like to transition into the world of professional cooking?
I graduated with a degree in Applied Math and Economics from Harvard without a clue as to what I wanted to do as a career. I got a job as a management consultant at The Monitor Group in Cambridge and I spent two years traveling, writing power point presentations, creating massive Excel worksheets, and attending meetings. I liked the work a lot but I didn’t see it becoming a long-term career. I looked at my bosses, some of whom I still keep in touch with today and who I respected a huge amount, and realized that I didn’t want to eventually become them.
So while my peers were applying to business school or moving on up within Monitor, I decided to take a year off and try my hand at a hobby that I’d always enjoyed immensely: cooking. I had dabbled a bit in baking while in college, selling fresh baked chocolate chip cookies to the student-run dorm grill; it was mostly just to relieve the constant pressure of impossibly difficult problem sets and it was also a way to earn a little spending money.
While at Monitor I continued to cook and bake, mostly just hosting dinner parties with friends and sometimes selling my cookies to co-workers who were looking for treats for birthday parties and such. But I’d never really thought it would be a career. I simply loved being in the kitchen and when I had to figure out what I should do after Monitor, it seemed like spending a year in a professional kitchen would be a great experience.
Do you remember the first recipe that you learned to make? Who taught you how to make it?
Toll house chocolate chip cookies with my mom!
In 2000, you opened Flour, a beloved local bakery and café, which has now grown to seven different locations! What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Boston food scene?
I love making people happy with food- and Bostonians love food! It’s incredibly gratifying every day.
Two of your cookbooks, Flour and Flour, Too, share some of the bakery’s most loved recipes. What are some customer favorites?
From Flour: banana bread, homemade oreos, chocolate chip cookies, sticky buns, carrot cakes. From Flour Too: BLT, egg sandwiches, spanish gazpacho, raspberry seltzer, pear and cranberry crostata
Which Flour pastry is your personal favorite?
Either our pain aux raisins or our butter breton cakes.
In your opinion, which Flour recipe best embodies the feel of a fall day in New England?
Apple Snacking Spice Cake
In 2007, you opened Myers + Chang, a Chinese restaurant in Boston, with your husband, Christopher Myers. What inspired you both to open the restaurant?
Christopher and I met while working together at Rialto in Cambridge, MA in 1995; Christopher was the general manager and co-owner and I was his pastry chef. His sweet tooth led him to my pastry station several times a day. We became fast friends. Secret: I harbored a crush on him but he was my boss! No bueno. I dreamed from afar. He left Rialto to open 3 more hugely successful restaurants in Boston – Radius, Via Matta, Great Bay. Radius earned 4 stars from the Boston Globe, twice.
I moved to NYC to help open Payard Patisserie. I still had a crush. I moved back to Boston to open Flour Bakery. And also because I couldn’t believe that we were not someday going to be together which wasn’t going to happen if I stayed in New York. A few years later I sat down with him at the bench outside of Flour and said, “Christopher I really like you.” To which he replied, “Chang I like you too!” And I corrected him, “No, I mean I like like you.” Stunned confused silence. Really? Longest minute of my life. Followed by the best kiss of my life.
We dated for a while. All of my shoes had gradually migrated over to his place and so eventually I moved in.
Every night when we were home together, when he wasn’t at his restaurants and I wasn’t going to bed early to wake at 3am to get to the bakery, I made dinner. I cooked what I grew up with: Taiwanese and Chinese food that I learned from my mom. To me it was perfectly normal to have rice and stir fries and greens and noodles 7 nights a week.
Unbeknownst to me Christopher kept waiting for a lasagna or a pot roast or a leg of lamb to show up on the dinner table. I had never roasted a chicken or braised a short rib in my life. He couldn’t believe that one could eat Chinese food every night; it was the only way I knew to eat.
After a few years our schedules were getting more ridiculous. We wanted to work together directly and opening a restaurant would guarantee we would spend more time together. Plus we both knew Boston needed a restaurant like what we knew we could create: Asian inspired, warm spirited service, genuine hospitality, stylish and fun, a place where everyone would relax and have a great meal. We joined forces and opened M+C.
You co-authored your most recent cookbook, Myers+Chang at Home, with your executive chef, Karen Akunowicz. What do you hope people gain from cooking recipes out of Myers+Chang at Home?
I hope that people see that Asian cooking is approachable and doable and most importantly delicious.
You’ve previously discussed your mission of making Asian food more accessible to the home cook. How did this influence your writing of Myers+Chang at Home?
We had multiple testers for every recipe- people who did not cook asian food. I wanted to make sure anyone could make these dishes.
What’s one of your favorite meals to make when you are cooking for family?
Simple roast chicken and vegetables and steamed rice.
What’s one meal you can eat over and over without ever growing tired of it?
Thanks, Joanne. It’s been great talking with you!
If you’d like to try some of Joanne’s incredible food, you can visit one of Flour’s seven locations in Boston or Cambridge, MA or visit Myers & Chang on Washington Street in Boston. In addition to the books mentioned above, you can also check out Joanne’s book, Baking with Less Sugar.