Meet Pastry Chef Joanne Chang


In Shondaland makers of joy series, we spotlight creative curators who operate behind the scenes to inspire moments of elation. Their handiwork illuminates paths to pleasure and their unique insights help us find happiness in our own lives. In this month’s episode, we explore the joy of detail.

Known for her famous sticky buns and other decadent treats perched on pastel-colored pedestals, pastry chef and Flour Bakery + Cafe co-owner Joanne Chang isn’t just interested in the finished goodness that emerges from her ovens. She has built an empire by thoughtfully creating joyful experiences beyond taste. “The whole point of Flour is that I want people to be happy,” says cookbook author and James Beard Award winner. “I want people to feel important.”

Opened in 2000 by Chang and her husband, Christopher Myers, in Boston’s South End, Flour now has nine locations and a “headquarters” in the Boston and Cambridge metro area. The local Massachusetts bakery chain rose to fame and acclaim for its ooey-gooey, addictive treats – Chang’s sticky buns beat Bobby Flay’s rendition on the Food Network. Launch with Bobby Flay — as well as exceptional customer service and an irresistibly inviting atmosphere.

“It’s about the overall experience you give someone,” Chang explains, “which means as soon as someone walks through the door, I want them to feel welcome. sit down and savor the wonderful food they eat, I want it to be in a pleasant, welcoming and warm atmosphere, I want every interaction to be authentic.

Chang hasn’t always worked with dough – at least not the one that comes to mind. After earning a degree in applied mathematics and economics from Harvard College, she took a job as a management consultant. While recruiting potential employees at college fairs, she would ask nervous students what they would do if they won the lottery to put them at ease. After asking the same question for two years, she realized that she could change some things in her own life. “I wasn’t super unhappy,” Chang recalled. “Actually, I was learning a lot. I just thought, ‘Maybe I should do something that makes me want to go to work every day?’ »

Like many children, Chang spent his childhood dreaming outside. “You know when you’re a little kid, and you got dirt and water, and you mix it all up and make mud patties or whatever?” she remembers. “Once I got old enough to cook with real ingredients, I realized it was a bit like magic.”

Joanne Chang opened her first bakery in 2000.

Photography Plum + Porto

Chang marveled at how a handful of ingredients, depending on how you combine, heat and distribute them, can make an array of different desserts. “You can take your hands, flour, sugar, eggs, butter and – boom! — you have a croissant. You have palm trees. You have sugar cookies. You have choux pastry. You have everything.”

Once she decided to pivot, Chang fervently applied for positions in the restaurant industry, which led to her first kitchen job at Boston’s beloved Biba restaurant, before moving on. train and work as a pastry chef in renowned bakeries and bistros. Eventually, Chang was inspired to take the plunge and open his own bakery and restaurant.

“For me, Flour was my way of trying to connect with the world in a way that I felt I could do my best,” Chang says. The pastry chef has spent the second act of her culinary career encouraging her team to treat their fresh, handmade baked goods with care and adoration. Chang calls this whole-hearted approach “Pastry Love,” a term she coined when she started baking that later became the name of her fifth cookbook. “For us at Flour, Pastry Love is a verb,” ​​she says. “We call it P-Love.”

Love Pastry Chef
Love Pastry Chef

The idea of ​​Pastry Love is to give all your love and attention to everything you do. At the first Flour location, Chang recalls positioning the cookies perfectly, making sure each plate was physically full and plentiful, cutting the crostata in an eye-pleasing way and going over the edges of each cake plate to store overflowing icing. “Once we opened the second bakery, I couldn’t be in two places at once,” Chang says. “Rather than going through the litany of things, it was just ‘Did you do Pastry Love?’ It became a key phrase for all of us that we still use…. It’s to pay attention and to give care.

Chang’s husband, who is her business partner and co-owner of Flour’s sister restaurant, Myers + Chang, was a huge source of inspiration to develop this practice. “Christopher loves decorating the table, getting flowers and making sure the place settings are all nice. I’m always like, ‘Wow.’ I think when you’re baking, you should do the same thing: find a nice platter, make sure you lay out your cookies nicely, and take the time to make the icing on the cake special.”

At Flour, customers never receive a crumbled cookie or a broken brownie. Chang calls it the mom test. “If you don’t give it to your mom, then we don’t put it on the counter,” she said. “Someone else might get these pastries as a gift, so let’s make them as wonderful as possible.”

The pastry chef believes that human beings are above all visual. Part of what makes baking so special, she says, is ogling the intentional beauty of the finished product. “Whatever you do, don’t just throw it in a bag and say, ‘There you go.’ Make it as important as it is. It’s something you’ve spent time creating. Give it the importance it’s due, that you’re due. Offer it with all the love, the joy and care you put into it.

While an appetizing aesthetic is pleasing, the true essence of P-Love extends beyond sprucing up the store’s glass display cases and counters. At its core, it’s about treating the entire cooking process with care. For Chang, the joy of cooking comes from this sense of grounding. “I love the sounds, the smells and knowing that I’m hoping to create something delicious,” she says.

Chang is also a testament to the power of leadership. Where many leaders show up and make sure things run smoothly, she has a deep interest in how people can – and deserve – to grow. Chang is currently finding excitement and meaning in how his team of 450 people are growing as individuals. “My goal,” she says, “is to try to make their experience as special as possible.”

The pastry chef wants her customers to feel important, but she feels the same about her team. “I want them to feel valued because for a lot of them it’s their first job,” says Chang. “I really want them to have this good foundation so that when they get into their other jobs or whatever field they’re studying, they understand what it’s like to work in a place that respects you. and pushing you and holding you accountable. I think it’s all part of just trying to make a better world.

Ultimately, Chang is committed to making life smooth for others in more ways than one. “When you go to a restaurant or a cafe, you only see ‘guy in the green hat’ and ‘woman in the red shirt’ and ‘little child’ and ‘mom’ and ‘businessman’. But if you really take the layers, each of these people is dealing with big things and really hard things. Her hope is that a simple exchange between the walls of Flour will encourage people to get through their day a little easier and that everyone will walk away a little happier.

“I have a strong feeling,” says Chang, “that we all walk through this world with a sign on our forehead that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ We all want to feel important. We spend our lives trying to find that place where we feel important. Anything you can do to give that to others is so rewarding [and] significant. It will help you to feel more important if you make others feel important.

joanne chang works in her cafes

Like her customers, Joanne Chang usually works in her bakeries.

Getty Images

When she’s at her bakeries, Chang usually parks in the dining room with her laptop or phone. She watches toddlers gape at icing and older couples enjoy a moment of quiet bliss over croissants. “At this point, we’re 22,” she said. “We’ve fed people who were babies when we opened who grew up eating our pastries and are now in college.” The idea that she and her team can be a positive part of someone’s day or life is what motivates her to go to work every day.

“I just wanted to do something that would help people deal with life,” Chang says, “and that was how I knew how to do it: a little sweets, smiles, a nice environment, a good job of team and something as simple as a hello and a smile.

Joanne Chang’s Three Tips for Practicing a Love of Baking at Home

give yourself time

“A lot of times people don’t bake the pie crust enough, and then it’s gummy. It’s one of the first things I notice when I eat someone’s pies. Did they take those extra 10 minutes to bring out all the flavors in the pie crust? »

Follow the recipe

“People skip steps and end up with one hot ingredient and one cold ingredient, and then the dough stiffens and seizes up, and that’s not good. These are things to really pay attention to if you cook.

Enjoy the process

“The idea of ​​P-Love is to pay attention to the whole process. Sometimes life is too busy and you have to hurry, but when you can, know that you are taking the time to get something done. house. It’s a big problem these days.

Mia Brabham is a writer at Shondaland. Follow her on Twitter at @hotmessmia.

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