Cooking In The Shadow of Peter Chang
Ever wonder what would it be like to take over a restaurant kitchen as top toque after an incredibly popular chef such as Peter Chang?
Well this food nerd does, so I caught up with Jiguo Jiang, the young and very skilled chef in charge at Tasty China and Tasty China II, to see what he says about the challenges he faced taking over after Chang.
It has been more than two years since Chang’s second and last departure from Atlanta. But thanks to Jiang — who at the time was busy heading up the kitchen at Tasty China I — it was food-as-usual at the popular Powers Ferry restaurant from day one, and it remains that way today.
And we really don’t know for sure that Chang is gone for good. After all, he in the past has been the type of chef to just pack his knives and take his fiery shenanigans to a new restaurant every time the wind blew. But I do know that the restaurant seems to be better off without him.
No, I am not saying Tasty China would be the same Tasty China we know and love today if it weren’t for Peter Chang. I am simply saying that the restaurant just seems to click better under Jiang, for whatever reason.
To spare you any more of my ramblings, here is what chef Jiang had to say.
Q: How difficult has been for you cooking after Peter Chang?
A: I found that Peter’s dishes had become extremely popular in Atlanta. Actually, it was a big surprise to me since they are just simple Chinese dishes.
Q: What was it like working with Peter Chang?
A: It reminds me of my working experience in China. Compared with Peter, my previous co-workers in China tended to be more precise and earnest in their cooking.
Q: What part of China are you from?
A: I came from Hebei Province, Northeast China.
Q: Being from Northern China you add a whole new element to the variety of dishes at Tasty China. One of the many things that has surprised me is your inclusion of pumpkin and cornbread, do they normally cook with pumpkin and cornbread in China?
A: Yes. Pumpkin and cornbread are very common in my hometown. Although they are ordinary, they can be cooked into a variety of delicacies with creativity.
Q: At what age did you start cooking? And, at what age did you begin your cooking career in restaurants?
A: I started cooking when I was 15 years old. Through learning, I was amazed by the magic of cooking and cultivated a strong interest in it.
Q: Your predecessor has a fanatical following up and down the east coast and couldn’t go anywhere without being bombarded with foodie attention. You seem to quietly go about your business in humble fashion. Does any part of you wish for all the fame that Peter Chang has enjoyed?
A: Certainly. Like all other chefs, I hope that more people will like my dishes. I also hope that I could have more opportunities to practice and share what I learned about cooking with more people.
Q: Your style seems so different from the highly explosive, insanely imbalanced approach that put Tasty China on the map as a culinary power house. You cook with remarkable precision and maturity — and smart, with great attention to texture and flavor profiles. Is this something that has come naturally to you, or did you pick this up in culinary school?
A: Precision is one of the main characters of Northeast Chinese cooking, which is also rooted in the cooking style in my hometown. I was born in a chef family and my mom is from Szechuan. Their knowledge and practice of cooking various kinds of food have been a major influence on me.
Q: If I were to tell you that you are handily the best unknown chef in Atlanta, what would you say?
A: I can’t say I am the best. Though many of my original dishes have become popular, people think they were created by Peter. However, Cooking is my life-long career and I always believe that one day people will know about my dishes, and know about me.
Q: And finally, what can we expect from you and Tasty China in the near future? …perhaps another location?
A: In our new location, we will keep the dishes that people love most and will also introduce more new dishes.