April - May 2018

THE FRONT PAGE

pagu

a chef's tasty tale

Story, at the heart of the matter and the food, distinguishes one of Boston’s hottest new restaurants of 2017 from usual first solo ventures of young chef-owners.

The acclaim and popularity of proprietor-chef Tracy Chang’s PAGU in Cambridge has been swift and impressive. Stylish, cool, welcoming – the restaurant and bar open from morning coffee to your Brandy de Jerez nightcap follows Ms. Chang’s fascination and search for the culinary since childhood. PAGU claimed sixth place in Boston Magazine’s Best New Restaurants list, Chef Chang was named Chef of the Year by The Boston Globe and to top it all, was invited to present a James Beard Dinner at New York’s venerable gastronomy temple

Success was to many insiders no long shot. She co-founded the winning pop-up Guchi’s Midnight Ramen with two past brigade-mates from the city’s elite O-Ya sushi restaurant soon after returning from a year of first-class training in Spain.

Taiwanese-American, Ms. Chang was born, raised and educated in the Boston region following her parents' arrival from Taiwan. She joined O-Ya in 2009 while completing her business degree at Boston College, destined for a solid business career. But there, her love of hosting and cooking called. At O-Ya, nationally acclaimed for contemporary Japanese cuisine, she rapidly rose from unpaid trainee to her first actual restaurant job. She was in charge of pastry, fried foods and cold dishes apart from sushi, learning on the go.

But if O-Ya’s doors opened to her future, it also surprisingly welcomed back her past.

She grew up eating Taiwanese and American food at home. But homecooking so to speak, was also elsewhere. She spent hours with her maternal grandmother at work, owner of Tokyo Restaurant, one of the earliest true Japanese restaurants in Cambridge - designed by Japanese architects and with trained chefs from Japan. Its customers included Julia Child. Fluent in Japanese, her grandmother lived during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan when its food became part of Taiwan’s diverse cuisine.

Tracy Chang grew up eating authentic specialties of the Japanese chefs, and watching and eventually helping in the kitchen and dining room had sowed the seeds of her pleasures in cooking and hospitality.

PAGU_squid ink oyster bao by Matt Li (1)

squid ink oyster bao

After O-Ya, Ms. Chang headed for Paris where she studied pastry at Le Cordon Bleu. Next, anxious to further her European training, she went to Spain. In 2011, awarded a prestigious full-year scholarship, she learned under multi-Michelin starred chef and inspirational teacher Martín Berasategui at his eponymous 3-star restaurant in San Sebastián.

She so impressed Mr. Berasategui and his wife Oneka that Ms. Chang was given a variety of increasingly important responsibilities – including assisting him on his visits to Shanghai and his other international locations. He called Ms. Chang (they are now good friends) his mano derecha (right hand).

Mr. Berasategui offered to secure her a place at other three-star Michelin restaurants or his own establishments. But her father had taken ill and the importance of her family, friends and community tugged her back stateside.

Back home came Guchis and then, lucky happenstance: a position as associate in Harvard University’s pioneering Science and Food programme, where assisting visiting lecturers such as Ferran Adrià and Andoni Luis Aduriz kept her in personal touch with Spain’s world-leading chefs.

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