Joanne Chang, a Harvard-educated baker, now operates three branches of Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston, and owns a more savory establishment called Myers + Chang with husband Christopher Myers, but even there, the motto is the same: Make Life Sweeter…Eat Dessert First. We met Chang at the Hawaii Food & Wine Enter The Modern Dragon event, where she served fresh fruit meringues and piped-to-order “Oreos,” which she called “Happiness.”
So Make Life Sweeter…
Make Life Sweeter…Eat Dessert First. That’s our motto.
Did your motto change at all when you opened a restaurant?
No, I actually still push that. A lot of times people who know the bakery will come to the restaurant, and they will ask me specifically about that, and I make sure to bring them a dessert menu along with the regular menu, so they know what to order, and they know to save room for dessert.
What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work in your bakery or restaurant, and would you say it’s different?
I wouldn’t say it’s different. The general skill set that we look for tends to be about the same. We look for people who are obviously hard working, great attitude, really passionate, all that good stuff. We also try to look for people who are good listeners and good communicators. So much of what we do is collaborative in the kitchen and in pastry. You have to work with a team of people. What you do is going to feed into what somebody else is going to do later on, which is in turn going to feed into what somebody else is going to sell after that. If you don’t communicate well, it’s really hard to have the kitchen run smoothly if you have someone who’s not a good communicator. We really look for people who value communication, who listen really well, and who understand the importance of connecting with the people around them.
Since you’re so synonymous with sweets, how much of a challenge was it for you to open a restaurant that focuses on savory?
For me, I grew up eating a lot of the food that we now make at the restaurant, so it was a little bit of a shift to be thinking about food and not sweets, because I do naturally gravitate toward sweets, but it wasn’t hard in that it’s what I grew up with. As much as I love sweets, I have to eat other food. The other food that I eat is all the foods we make at the restaurant. It was actually a really nice outlet for me after spending so many years focusing on pastries to finally be able to take what I did at home, and what I did growing up, and present that to the dining public as well.
At Flour, is it still the sticky bun that’s the biggest seller?
Yeah, it’s definitely up there. The most basic pastries tend to be the most popular. Chocolate chip cookies, we can’t keep them in the house. They’re just so popular. Our simple banana bread, it’s really straight forward, and people love it. We sell so many slices a day, straight forward banana bread. But definitely the sticky buns are kind of what put us on the map.
Do you see signature dishes as a positive?
I do. The only downside I can see is that sometimes people will come in for a signature dish, and if it’s not there, then they leave, and I feel like we offer so many different things that if there’s not a signature dish you came in for, I hope you would trust us to try something else, because we really do think everything is as good as the signature dish, but the signature just happens to get more press. It’s a good thing, and it’s always good to have something to be known for that draws people in, especially in a city like Boston where there are a lot of travelers and students that cycle in and out of the city. It’s good to have something people recognize you by.
Is there anything you don’t enjoy eating?
Oh yeah. I’m infamous among my staff for having a lot of picky things…I can give you the list: hazelnuts, peanuts, saffron, oysters. Those are just the four things I avoid outright. I don’t do well with cured meats like prosciutto, capicola and soppressata. Even bacon. I know everybody loves bacon. I don’t. When I taste bacon, it doesn’t sit well with me.
Do you have any savory pastries?
No. We never went that route. We do things like cheddar scallion scone and have a ham and cheese hot pocket, a mozzarella, tomato and pesto hot pocket. We do stuff like that. I never went into that area of pastry where you mix sweet and savory, like candied bacon. It’s just not my thing. I’m much more of a traditionalist.
Is there a person you’ve never cooked with before who you would most like to cook with?
That’s a good question. I’ve heard so many thing about Thomas Keller. I’ve met him in passing, read so much about him. I just really admire everything I’ve heard about him and read about him. I think it would be really awesome to cook by side by side and watch him, see how he operates.