Running three locations of her successful Boston bakery, Flour, overseeing Myers + Chang — the restaurant she co-owns with her husband Christopher Myers — and with a new cookbook just hitting the shelves, pastry chef Joanne Chang isn't left with much time for cooking at home. That means that when it does happen, a meal cooked in her small, but super-organized loft kitchen is all that much more of a special event.
While Joanne admits that most dinners consist of take-out from Flour Bakery or Myers + Chang — certainly a well-deserved perk of owning your own restaurant — her heart still lies in home cooking. And she easily proved her passion during my visit, preparing a batch of currant scones that set my stomach loudly a-grumble as they baked and tasted as delicious than they smelled — flaky, rich and just sweet enough.
The scent of freshly baked scones would make any kitchen feel homey, but Joanne also adds warmth and personality to her space by filling it with playful and sentimental details. Her Kitchen Aid mixer is the very first one she bought when she started her cooking career — a big investment at the time — and a note from a satisfied young customer stuck to her microwave is a sweet reminder of how much happiness a good meal can serve up. The couple collects all types of tableware from elegant antique glasses to quirky mugs and plates by Jane Jenni and Sarah Cihat to kitschy vintage cookie jars.
Chang overcomes the kitchen's small size by paring down, arranging carefully, cleaning often, and making the most out of even the tiniest storage space. Since the couple rarely use their dishwasher unless they have guests, it's found new calling as extra shelving. Fewer cabinets mean that most of the kitchen tools must be kept out in the open, the advantage being that they are easily accessible when the need arises. And luckily since the kitchen is open to the entire loft space it manages to pass for a lot larger than it really is.
Though it may not be perfect, the busy couple wouldn't trade their easy, functional kitchen for the world. "I feel very lucky in this kitchen," Joanne says, "I have pretty much everything I need at my fingertips.
10 Questions for Joanne Chang (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
My family! My husband Christopher and I love spending time together while I'm making dinner or baking treats. We have a loft so it's easy for him to be hanging out either working or watching TV or reading while I'm puttering away, both of us in the same space. I love making dishes that I grew up with. My mom is a terrific cook and I still crave her cooking. When I cook at home for Christopher I'm always trying to duplicate those same flavors and dishes that I grew up with.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
I feel incomplete in the kitchen when I'm baking without an offset spatula. It's really an extension of my hand. I use it to frost things, move things around, even cut and trim things. It's such a handy tool and I have several of them in the kitchen (in case one goes missing!)
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
Christopher and I had about 12 people over for Thanksgiving a few years back where we cooked everything from start to finish. It was a 2 day affair to prep for this dinner and when people starting coming over and taking part in the prep it really became a 14 person kitchen! It was so much fun. We had course upon course of traditional Tday dishes (turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes) and Chinese dishes that I couldn't bear to not have on the table (rice, stirfried greens, dumplings, soup). By the end we were all like stuffed turkeys lolling around on the couch. No one could move. It was such a blast.
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
We don't have gas heat and I miss that. In the restaurant we have gas and it makes such a difference. Even my mom when she comes over to my house to cook mumbles under her breath when trying to cook with the electric stove. For Chinese cooking you really need SUPER HIGH HOT heat to make the dishes sing.
5. Is there anything you wish were different?
I'd love to add a bit more counter space! And switch to gas heat :)
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
Christopher has gorgeous glasses that we use when we have company. We have all sorts of fancy vintage ones as well as some from our favorite gift stores in town that are so pretty! I love looking at them. People know that we sort of collect glasses so we get them as gifts too.
My personal indulgence is perfectly sharpened knives. I'm spoiled at work where the knives are always sharp and I can't work anymore with a dull knife! So I make sure to keep ours well honed.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
Who doesn't want more cabinet and counter space? But maybe I just need to arrange it better. I feel very lucky in this kitchen — I have pretty much everything I need at my fingertips.
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
Fresh, simple, homey Taiwanese cooking. We live down the street from an Asian market so access to a huge variety of Asian vegetables influences my cooking a lot. I also like to break out every now and then with a very American roast chicken and potatoes. It sounds boring to most but after night after night of eating Chinese food sometimes it's pretty exciting!
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
Clean as you go. Clean as you go. Clean as you go. I learned this in all of my jobs and now if I have a messy work station it makes me crazy. I can't work and I have to stop and grab a rag and clean!
10. What are you cooking this week?
Christopher is asking for Pot Roast so I think that's on the menu this week — it just started to get really cold and we're both craving stewy braised things. I can't wait!
• Kitchen Aid mixer is a must!
• All Clad pots are awesome.
• Cuisinart coffee grinder
• Ateco offset spatulas and piping bags
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(Images: Sarah Rainwater)