After spending 13 hours with him, and interviewing more people about him, I got to know a lot about Peter Chang. Here are a few choice quotes and anecdotes from, or about, the chef. Chang’s remarks were interpreted by a freelancer hired by the Food section.
“When I had free time, I would just use a wok and put some sand in the wok and practice how to hold the wok and flip the [sand] in the wok.” — Peter Chang on learning to use a wok in culinary school.
“When I first stayed [in the United States to work], it was very painful because in China, I had already reached a certain status. I was well respected, right? But when I started working in the States, I had no capital, no name.” — P.C.
“At the beginning because we had no ID and passport, we could not fly. So anywhere we traveled, we had to take the Greyhound [bus]. My wife and I, we rode the Greyhound more than any Chinese person in the United States.” — P.C.
“For both of my parents, the work is everything. . . . Once they got to the U.S., everything was so dependent on them. . . . I don’t think they had a life once they came to the U.S., other than work.” — daughter Lydia Chang
”The key is you need to have a good person in charge of each restaurant, especially a good chef. The chef has to have 10 years of cooking experience in China and then also work with me for at least three years. . . . It’s a long process to identify a chef that can work for me.” — P.C.
“We’re one family. His career is my career. When you need to give, you just give. You don’t care about [your name on the marquee].” — Wife, pastry chef and business partner Lisa Chang on whether she should receive more public credit
“I’m not a very romantic type. I don’t have a sweet mouth to say sweet words to her. Ever since we were married [in 1987], I never bought her a flower or any gift. But we all know with all our hearts we are true to each other. She supports me in everything I do.” — P.C. about his wife
Correction on gifting his wife: “In 1993, I went to Beijing for the first time. I went to this famous shopping mall in Beijing. I bought her a shirt. I did not know what she would like, so I chose the most expensive one. But when I bought the shirt back, it was too small for her. She could not wear it. She had to give it to my cousin. So after that, I don’t buy her anything. That was the only gift ever, since I met her in 1981.” — P.C.
“We found him, and his food is great. . . . But he’s got a right to make some money. Let him go and do his thing. Meanwhile, we can look around for the next great chef. That’s what life is all about.” — John Binkley, a retired Washington economist who repeatedly chased down Chang in the early days
“In a way, I’m chasing this vanity to make myself famous. I have that kind of skill, and I think I can do it. I have interest in doing it. I also don’t like to see Chinese cuisine being kind of ruined by Chinese-American cooking. I wanted to restore Chinese cooking’s authentic qualities.” — P.C.
“He’s legal. He can. . . work here as long as he wants.” — business partner Gen Lee on Chang’s work status in America
“I noticed one thing about Chinese restaurants in America: We don’t understand the bar culture. Americans like to spend money and time in a bar, and we don’t know how to create that kind of atmosphere and that kind of bar to attract Americans. That’s a very common problem at Chinese restaurants in America. I hope I can overcome that problem here.” — P.C.
“American customers have a tendency: Once they like a dish, they always order that dish. They won’t change to a different dish.” — P.C.
“Now you look at the name of my restaurant. I call it Peter Chang, but I don’t call it a Sichuan restaurant. Why? Because my dishes have the taste of different cuisines. There’s the influence of Cantonese, the influence of this and that. . . . I have to say that my style originated from Sichuan, because Sichuan cuisine is the base and has a big influence on my cooking. But it’s no longer just Sichuan anymore.” — P.C.