From Consulting to Cake
Number crunching during the day and elaborate dinner parties at night—this was the way Joanne Chang channeled her cooking talents for many years before becoming the pastry chef and restaurant owner she is today.
After graduating from Harvard College in 1991 with a degree in Applied Mathematics and Economics, Chang began the well-trodden path of management consulting. Fast forward more than a decade later, she is the owner of Flour Bakery, a popular destination with four different locations in Boston. She is also the founder of the acclaimed Myers + Chang, a Chinese restaurant also located in Boston.
It’s a far cry from where she began. Despite her unconventional career change, Chang credits her first few years in consulting to her current success. “Not only did I make enough money to give me the confidence and savings to try my hand at a less lucrative job, but I also met lots of incredible people and learned a lot,” she notes. “I don’t think anyone should take a job just for the money. But it’s not a bad idea to take a job that interests you and is financially responsible even if you have some other passion.”
Chang switched from consulting to full time cooking in 1994. In 1995, she was hired as Pastry Chef at Rialto in Cambridge. In 1997, she moved to New York City to work in the cake department at Payard Patisserie and Bistro. After a few years in New York, she moved back to Boston in 2000 and opened Flour Bakery in the South End.
Flour has been lauded for its delicious treats, comfortable atmosphere, and welcoming work environment. Among Chang’s favorites on the menu are the banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, and butter Breton cakes. Moreover, The Boston Globe named Flour “One of the Top Places To Work” in 2011. For Chang, the favorite part of running Flour is, by far, her team. “I am so proud of the 220+ team members that make up Flour, and I look forward to seeing them every day,” Chang says.
In 2007, Chang and her husband, Christopher Myers, opened up a new restaurant called Myers + Chang. Unlike Flour, with its low-key vibe and freshly baked pastries, Myers + Chang is a high intensity restaurant with an eclectic blending of Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, and Vietnamese dishes. Spring rolls, not bread rolls, tempt the hungry customer.
“Flour is like a long distance marathon,” Chang explains. “Every hour of every single day is busy, whereas Myers + Chang is more like speed racing—we have a busy lunch, then a lull, then we are slammed for dinner. I personally prefer baking—I’m a trained pastry chef—but working in the kitchen at Myers + Chang is the main way I stay connected in the kitchen, and I love it.”
Like Flour, Myers + Chang has been critically acclaimed. It was named “Best South End Restaurant” in Boston Magazine and “Boston’s Best Chinese” in Serious Eats, among other titles—but running a kitchen takes serious work. Behind the rich brownie at Flour or the delectable pork bun at Myers + Chang, there is intensely coordinated teamwork, leadership, and organization. “We stress the importance of working together as a team, and you can see it with all of the sharing and juggling of equipment and oven space that happens every moment,” she says.
Working in the kitchen at Myers + Chang is the main way I stay connected in the kitchen, and I love it.
Chang, as chef and owner, has the responsibility to make sure that all the necessary ingredients from the kitchen are working together smoothly. She describes her kitchen environment as simultaneously intense and low key.
Myers + Chang may look frazzled and chaotic to an outsider’s eye. In actuality, it is organized chaos in which every team member has an important role to play. “On a busy weekend, [the] chef is shouting out orders into the kitchen, the woks are blazing on full flame, [and] pans and pots are clanking and clattering,” Chang says. “Guests watching us from their seats often tell me that it looks like a well orchestrated dance.”
If Chang’s kitchen is a dance, then she is the choreographer. She not only creates ideas, but also executes them with her team. This requires a steady and successful leadership style. She describes her own style as “fair, consistent, direct, and positive.” It’s a difficult task, but the outcome is incredibly rewarding. At the end of the day, Chang and her team create a tangible product, and after experiencing Myers + Chang, I can attest that the product is mouth-wateringly delicious.