If the partners’ plan unfolds as they hope — a significant question given Chang’s recent track record and the country’s long history with tame, Americanized Chinese food — it could mark an end to a quixotic period in Chang’s career.
Just how quixotic? Chang, 49, has cooked in eight different restaurants over the course of six or so years, transforming his frustrated followers into expert sleuths to keep up with his wanderings.
“We want to spread out. But the thing is, we only have limited pennies. We only have limited everything.” Lee said. “Right now, there’s a lot of people interested to . . . back us. If they’re willing to do it, then we would be just like a consultant. That’s why we need this home base: So we can nail every dish. We got documents, recipes, books for every dish.”
A few of the chef’s dedicated fans were invited to the grand opening Wednesday night of Peter Chang’s Cafe, his second in central Virginia; he opened Peter Chang’s China Grill last year in Charlottesville. Among the well-wishers was John Binkley, the former Washingtonian whose near-obsessive pursuit of Chang was chronicled in Calvin Trillin’s March 2010 article in the New Yorker.
In a way, Wednesday’s dinner might have marked an end to Binkley’s celebrated sleuthing, a pursuit that has been mutually beneficial for chef and customer. Binkley became a sort of hero to fellow Changians, as the chef’s followers sometimes refer to themselves, and Chang has earned the official title of cult figure, which has only increased his marquee value.
Not that many diners were probably aware of the changes to come. Neither Lee nor Chang provided attendees with much detail on their expansion dreams, but Lee laid out the plans after most everyone had left. He said the pair had formed a company, Peter Chang LLC, in which the chef was the primary owner. (The clerk’s office with the Virginia State Corporation Commission confirms that Gen Lee registered the company in April 2010.)
Everything would now be legit, Lee said, evoking old, unanswered questions about immigration status that have dogged the chef in his travels. Chang would apply for a green card and settle down, Lee said. The chef and his master chef wife, Lisa Chang, have even secured a permanent address in Richmond, about a mile from the new restaurant.
Why the sudden about-face with Chang and his migratory habits?