Erchen Chang is already a well-established figure in the London culinary scene at the mere age of 25. Being chef director at Bao Soho and the newly opened Bao Fitzrovia, two restaurants she opened with her husband and his sister, Chang draws on her memories of eating bao in her home country of Taiwan, as well as her study at Slade School of Fine Art, to create fine food experiences in the middle of London.
Why did you move from art to food?
The three of us [Chang, her husband and sister-in-law] just loved food. Even before we opened the restaurant, we’d been eating out a lot together, and we loved eating bao when we travelled back to Taiwan. To me, the flavors of bao weren’t that unusual—it just tasted like home. But to them, the flavors were new and exciting.
It wasn’t really like moving from one to another, going from art to food. There are a lot of processes when we’re making bao that are similar to making art. For example, when you’re writing recipes, how it looks on day one is different to the final product so processes like that are the similar, and it’s an aspect that I enjoy.
Where did you learn to cook?
I’m mostly self-taught, and I learned a lot from my grandmother. I didn’t necessarily learn how to cook from her, but watching her work and eating her food taught me about taste and smell. When I left home, I suddenly started to miss her cooking, and that’s when I started creating food myself.
Do you have significant food memories of your upbringing in Taipei?
My grandmother has seven children and I have eighteen cousins—they don’t all live in Taipei, but I’d say on average she’d be cooking for 10 to 15 people a night. It was fascinating to see an old lady who’d cook so fast that by the time she sits down to eat with us, all the food is still piping hot. It’s quite amazing—her efficiency, and the theatre of her working in the kitchen. There’d always be at least ten dishes, with a big pot of soup in the middle, and we would always finish the meal with loads of tropical fruit. There was one that I really enjoyed that I’ve never found here [in the UK], it’s like a waxy apple—a combination of an apple and a guava. Fruit from home is probably one of the things I miss the most now living in London.
Do you think the culture of London engenders creativity in the food world?
Definitely, because people are always looking out for something new. Soho is so packed with shops and food, it’s very competitive for restaurants. But it’s healthy competition, because everyone’s upping their game, trying to source the best products and come up with the best flavor combinations. It’s a challenge for us, but a good one.
What’s it like working in a high pressure restaurant environment with your family?
We share really similar ideas and aesthetics. There’s always times when you get mad at each other, but I find working with family gets you back to normal a lot quicker. If you don’t agree with each other initially, you find a way to agree a lot quicker and get back to work. It’s very positive.
Photography:Marsy Hild Thorsdottir
Styling:Lilja Hrönn Helgadóttir