How chef Peter Chang stopped running and started empire-building
March 20, 2015 2:16 PM   Subscribe

The Washington Post investigates how chef Peter Chang stopped running and started empire-building:
The pursuit of Chang soon became an all-consuming story among exotic-food hunters: a tale of obsession, devotion and love for one chef’s authentic Chinese fare. The chase narrative transformed a Hubei province farm boy with minimal English language skills into an American cult figure, an image that, years later, still clings to the chef despite his restaurant chain that keeps expanding year after year.

You may remember Chang from this Calvin Trillian article in the New Yorker about the obsessive fans who would travel to eat his food whereever he popped up next: Where's Chang.
posted by julen (6 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
For those like me who are unfamiliar with this guy and so might read the article waiting for the other shoe to drop, this is not an exploration of a hidden backstory of P.F. Chang's.
posted by rhizome at 3:02 PM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

Oh geez! That never even occurred to me. I'd add a #notPFChangs tag but they aren't shown on the front page.
posted by julen at 3:14 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Er um Trillin.
posted by stevil at 8:21 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

When he was at Hong Kong House, I tried to bring everyone I knew. If I had a party, I catered with their food. They had a five-page menu with one page of "American Chinese Food," god bless them. They really were innovative, with buffet lunch specials of whatever Chang felt like making. It wasn't fancy--it was a cafeteria-looking place in a strip mall, with wood paneling and yellowed ceiling tiles, but damn, their food was good, and so different. I kept going there after he left, for years, as the kitchen got sloppier and the menu shrunk, until it closed.

It was an astonishing experience to finally get to eat real, good Chinese food after only having access to sweet & sour and General Tso's for the rest of my life. I can only hope that his life dream comes true, so that I can order puffy scallion pancakes, seafood soup with crackling rice, and slow-braised beef with garlic again someday.

I did a cartoon double-take when I saw his name on the front page here, because this man ruined me for Chinese food. So this was a fascinating article. I did not know that he was literally on the run. Now the cynical part of me feels vindicated, because obviously, a chef that good was here in Tennessee because he was hiding. Of course.
posted by heatvision at 4:38 AM on March 21, 2015

My wife and I used to eat at China Star in the days when he and Lisa were there after first leaving the embassy, and it was glorious. I think Lisa doesn't get enough credit; I have never encountered scallion pancakes to match the ones she used to make at China Star. They would come to the table puffed up nearly into perfect globes from the fryer, like crunchy balloons full of hot air.

China Star never recovered from his departure. It's been up and down a few times, not to mention changing owners. There have been periods when it was a decent Sichuan restaurant with a lot of the same dishes that he used to make, but even then it was only a pale imitation of the Peter Chang days. His mark remains on the area, though -- some of the later China Star staff left and opened a new restaurant a few years ago called China 88, which has a lot of the same dishes on the menu, but it's a pale imitation of the pale imitation.

Didn't realize he had a new place in Arlington already, but we've been waiting for the new Rockville restaurant to open. Just a little longer...
posted by McCoy Pauley at 6:43 AM on March 21, 2015

Lisa also came up with the cilantro fish rolls, which are wonderful. And I suspect she's the one who added the lamb kebobs (same sauce as the the fantastic bubble pancakes).

The Taste of China in Charlottesville devolved into ordinary American Chinese really quickly, even with some of his recipes left behind.

I had no idea about the backstory - I'd heard the local restaurant gossip about his breakup with the first Charlottesville partner, and the partnership that seems to work with the second one, but the Cold War-era-style defection from the Embassy and trying to avoid attention while making his career what he wanted is a whole facet of his life that was totally invisible to me. I found this article so fascinating for comparing the realities of his situation with the mythology that had grown up around him.
posted by julen at 6:12 PM on March 21, 2015

« Older "Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is...   |   It’s like sexual release that’s allowed Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments