Food Tips

Chef profile: Joanne Chang

Chef profile: Joanne Chang Author: Style At Home

Food Tips

Chef profile: Joanne Chang

After studying at Harvard for Applied Mathematics and Economics, who would have thought that Joanne Chang’s heart would eventually lead her to becoming a well-known pastry chef? We’re thankful it did. After two years as a management consultant, Chang left her day job in pursuit of what she always loved – cooking.  “One of the top restaurants in Boston at the time, Biba, was hiring and they took a chance on me. I fell in love with being in a professional kitchen pretty much on the first day of work,” she says. She eventually found her home in the bakery section and worked on a slew of restaurants and bakeries in Boston and New York City before finally opening up her own pastry shop, Flour, in Boston.

The next logical step? A cookbook of all her delectable treats, of course! “A friend of my husband's, Christie Matheson, is a cookbook author and she approached me about being my co-author if I wanted to write a baking book. She was a huge Flour fan and was eager to help me share our recipes. I was sold. We spent two years writing and editing the book together.”
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1 What tools do you use in your kitchen on a daily basis?
Joanne Chang
The basics for sure: paring knife, chef’s knife, offset spatula, bench scraper, bowl scraper, kitchen scale, rubber spatula, whisk, and Chinois. With these basics I can make pretty much anything!

2 What tools do you love, but don't use quite as often?
JC
I adore rolling pins and I have several different kinds at home. At the bakery we use commercial sheeters to roll out our dough and at home I don't bake nearly as much as I'd like too. My favourite is a tapered French rolling pin -- it makes manipulating dough into any shape you want a breeze. I have a nifty measuring cup that is made of silicone and is bendable and easy to pour things out of, but I rarely use it because I always weigh my ingredients with a kitchen scale. So I use the measuring cup mostly as a water glass for drinking.

3 One kitchen item you can't live without?
JC
I would honestly be lost without salt. Many people don't think about the importance of salt in baking. It does the same thing for sweets as it does for savouries – it highlights flavours. Especially when baking with vanilla, lemon and chocolate. Salt keeps desserts from tasting flat and makes them stand out.

4 What is your kitchen design style?
JC
My kitchen style is simple and straightforward. I've been fortunate to work in many great kitchens and one thing I learned right away is to pay attention to your ingredients. Fancy technique and plating will only get you so far. The best food comes from starting with the best ingredients. So I try to maintain that in my kitchen, both personally and professionally.

5 Your favourite cookbooks?
JC
Oh my so many! I love Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet to inspire my Asian cooking at home. For baking, Tartine has long been a favourite and now I'm crushing on Bouchon Bakery (who isn't?). Honestly, one that I refer to over and over is How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. It really does have everything in it! And Ottalenghi is a recent obsession. Incredible.
  6 Your favourite thing to cook/bake?
JC
My favourite thing to cook is a simple stir-fry of vegetables that I get at our Asian supermarket down the street from our house with tofu or chicken. It's very meditative and relaxing for me to prepare the veggies and get everything in order. Then wham bam make a delicious healthy quick stir-fry for me and Christopher. For baking, by far I love to make ice cream because it's my favourite thing in the world to eat!

7 What food item are you obsessing over right now?
JC
I'm obsessing over pickled mustard seeds. Our sous chef Kevin at M+C made some that we put over a pork stir-fry and I love the way they pop and add brightness and depth to so many dishes. I've seen them at other places as a garnish, as well.

8 Favourite spice/herb?
JC
My favourite spice/herb is cilantro. Some people have a gene, which makes cilantro taste like soap to them. I must have the opposite gene in my system – I can't get enough. When I'm cooking at home I'll often use an entire bunch in one dish.

9 Strangest thing you've ever eaten?
JC
When you grow up Chinese an easier question would be what strange thing have you NOT eaten? Honestly, I think I've blocked most of it out. But I do remember recently going to Istanbul and tasting intestine sandwiches, which came highly recommended from a good friend who is Turkish. I ate one bite just to say I did. End of story.

10 Best dish you’ve ever eaten?
JC
My mom's tofu. She used to make this tofu dish when I was growing up that I actively started to miss as soon as I moved away for college. Spicy with chili, bright with black and rice vinegar, rich with black beans, and tons of cilantro all over white rice. It was the best dinner ever. 11 Favourite childhood food?
JC
I loved chocolate chip cookies. They were the one thing that I baked and my mom and I often made them together so there are lots of great memories there.

12 Favourite food destination?
JC
Paris by experience, Thailand by dreaming. I adore Paris, always have and always will. The pastries are simply the best. And the bread! And the bistros! All of it. But I know someday, when I go to Thailand, I will be blown over by the street food. I read cookbooks now about it and literally drool as I read.

13 Tea or coffee?
JC
I used to guzzle coffee. Huge cups of hot and iced all day long, seven to eight cups at least. One year I was training for a marathon and my stomach wasn't cooperating. I was cramping up during training runs and always kind of achy. So I quit coffee cold turkey and went straight to English Breakfast tea. Now I drink copious amounts of tea morning, noon, and night.

14 Biggest guilty pleasure?
JC
I cannot stop myself from taking the big chunks of chocolate out of the chocolate chip cookies at Flour. I usually have 3-4 cookies a day this way -- just poking out the chocolate and hiding the detritus. Once Christopher walked in on me in the office and was SHOCKED. He thought I was exaggerating. I wasn't.

15 Items you have to have in my kitchen?
JC
Sriracha (rooster sauce), Three Crabs fish sauce, Kikkoman soy sauce, slivered almonds for snacking, good salted butter for bread, San Marzano tomatoes (for pizza sauce), Fage Greek yogurt, and lots of champagne. We always have tons of fresh fruit and vegetables and a few loaves of bread from Flour in the freezer.
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Food Tips

Chef profile: Joanne Chang