Know Your Chef: Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery+Cafe
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Chef Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery+Cafe in Boston will be one of the talented chefs participating in the opening event of the Hawai'i Food & Wine festival, Enter the MODERN Dragon: Morimoto & Friends, held on Sept. 6 at the MODERN Honolulu. Chang will be serving her signature homemade Oreos.
"They are always a huge hit," Chang says of her cookies, which she serves frequently at events in Boston. "People come back to our table over and over to get seconds and thirds and sometimes fourths."
Thursday evening at the MODERN, Chang will also be serving a pavlova with tropical fruits and plum wine, a dessert from her other restaurant Myers+Chang.
"We were inspired by the bounty of wonderful tropical fruits in Hawaii," says Chang, who is looking forward to working with locally grown mangos, papayas and pineapples. She says that based on her last trip to Hawaii, the humidity will most likely be a challenge for the baked meringue dessert, but she is confident that they will figure it out.
On Sunday Sept. 9, Chang will also be joining Chefs Jackie Lau, Christina Tosi and Susan Feniger at the Girls Got Game! brunch at the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki where she will be serving Flour Bakery's sticky buns.
Here's the transcript from my conversation with Chang:
Morita: You were in Hawaii doing a cooking demo awhile back. How was your trip, and is there anywhere that you're looking forward to visiting when you come back in September for the Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival?
Chang: Absolutely. We had a fantastic time. I taught a class at the Halekulani hotel, and then we also went to the Community College and taught a couple of classes there.
We had such a wonderful time at each of the classes. Everyone was so welcoming, and we really learned a lot just by talking to the people that we met in Hawaii. After the classes, we were able to spend a little time driving around the island. I personally can't wait to get back to - is it Aki's Shaved Ice?
Morita: Oh, Aoki's
Chang: Yes! That place exactly. I loved it there!
We went there and got a shaved ice. We drove around and then came back and got another one. It was so good! And then they had a lot of little packaged things that I fell in love with. You can find them in the States, but it's not as easy as in Hawaii. They are the little pickled sour plums and stuff like that. I really really love them.
Morita: Oh, you mean crack seed. Was it just the plums that you liked? Have you tried any of the other ones?
Chang: Yes, we have the plums. I still have them. I ration them out, only letting myself eat one or two a day so that they last me a while. I love them so much.
Morita: Well, one good thing about crack seed is that they do last a while, that is, if you can fight the urge to eat them all in one sitting.
Morita: A lot of chefs start out in other fields before finding their way to the food industry. What was it that made you decide that you no longer wanted to be a management consultant and make the jump into cooking?
Chang: Well, I was relatively young when I made the decision. I was 24 years old and I had been doing consulting for a couple of years. I enjoyed it, but it definitely didn't seem like it was going to be my long-term career. It wasn't something that I was jumping up and down everyday to get to work. I thought to myself, "What's something that I really love to do. What's a passion that I have?" And it was cooking.
I've always loved being in the kitchen. I've always loved cooking and baking for my friends and family. So, I got a job in a restaurant, but I wasn't intending that it was going to be a long-term career change. I just thought that rather than spending another year consulting, I'm basically going to take a year off to just have fun doing something that I really love and see where that leads me.
I cooked in a restaurant and I loved it. From the restaurant, I ended up getting a great job at a bakery, and from the bakery I got great job at another restaurant. I just kept getting these really great opportunities with chefs that became my mentors along the way. Then, one day I sort of looked up and I'm a pastry chef.
I don't know that I had this plan or this path carved out. It was just that I was in love with every job I had and then would I leave because I wanted to learn more. I would love the next job even more, and it just kept going and going and going.
Morita: What was it like working for François Payard?
Chang: That was incredibly intense. I had never worked for anybody French, nor had I ever worked in the culinary field in New York City. In New York they take their food very very very seriously. I was working with a lot of native French pastry cooks who had been flown in from France. I took a little French in high school, but I really had to brush up because no one spoke any English.
There was the language challenge, which ended up being great once I learned some rudimentary French. Then that left the challenge of working in a French run kitchen, which is really really strict. It reminded me of boot camp. Everything has to be done a certain way, and everyone is held to an incredibly high standard. The hours are really long. It was a wonderful experience, while at the same time being a very intense.
Morita: I can relate. I apprenticed under a Swiss chef.
Chang: Ah yes.
Morita: The Swiss and the Germans take their food very seriously as well.
Chang: It was a fantastic experience. I definitely learned a lot. I don't think I could have done it long term, but I got a good year in there and just learned so much about French pastry, and François has been a great mentor ever since.
Morita: He's going to be here for the Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival too.
Chang: Oh I didn't know that. I'm so excited!
Morita: When I saw his name on the list of attending chefs, I was like, "Oh my god, I get to meet François Payard!"
Chang: Oh I can't wait to see him. I haven't seen him in years. That'll be great!
Morita: It's a nice little reunion for you.
Chang: Yeah, definitely.
Morita: So, your Oreos are sure to be a big hit at the Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival.
Chang: Yes, we're very excited about that.
Morita: Was there much r&d involved in developing a recipe based on such an iconic cookie? Everyone knows what an Oreo is, so they are going to know if it tastes right or not.
Chang: We definitely went through a lot of iterations. We started with a basic chocolate shortbread, and the cookie was too tender. So, from there, we kept tweaking. Adding things and taking things out until we came up with what we think is the perfect Oreo.
It's not crisp like the original Oreo. It's a little bit softer, but not as soft as a shortbread. It's got a lot of chocolate flavor. We've got both melted chocolate and cocoa powder in there, so you get a double whammy of chocolate.
The filling is my favorite part because it's so simple. People always ask what's in the filling. It's just confectioner's sugar, butter, a little bit of milk to loosen it up and vanilla. I think people, especially if you aren't used to eating at places that use real butter, forget how great things can taste when you use the right ingredients.
Morita: We do have a local dairy in town that produces butter. I'm don't know if you'll get a chance to work with that, but it is really a phenomenal product from Naked Cow Dairy.
Chang: I'm not sure about that; I'll have to ask, but I know that we are given a local chocolate that I am really excited to use.
Morita: So, you're currently working on your second cookbook. Is there anything you can share about it?
Chang: Well, this second book is a result of the response to the first book, which was phenomenal. People were really excited for the first book, but immediately after complimenting the recipes in the first book, they would say you forgot this recipe or you forgot that recipe.
So, it's more of an all-day approach to the bakery. We do breakfast, lunch and dinner specials at the bakery, so that's what the second book is.
There are a lot more breakfast items like an oatmeal and an egg sandwich that we do. Then the lunch items will feature soups and sandwiches that are really popular with out customers. For dinner, we have salads and main courses along with a whole chapter on our party items, which is a little bit of our catering and some of our holiday desserts.
Morita: Oh yeah, those are always fun.
Chang: Oh yeah, there's croquembouche, bûche de noël and apple pithiver, things that we only do during the holidays.
There's also a small chapter on drinks. For instance, we have a super rich hot chocolate that's very popular and a homemade raspberry seltzer that people really like. We do a bunch of different seltzers throughout the year, so those will be in the new book.
Morita: That sounds like it's going to be a really great book.
Chang: I'm really excited about it.
Morita: I'll keep an eye out for it. Is there a release date yet?
Chang: It's March 2013.
Morita: I'm marking my calendar right now.
Morita: I'd like to thank you for spending some time with me and talking about your career, and I look forward to seeing you at the Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival.
Chang: Absolutely, it was my pleasure. We're so excited.