Chef Joanne Chang is no stranger to cookbookery. While her first three forays into publishing focused on the sweet side with recipes from Flour Bakery + Cafe and desserts with natural sweeteners, she’s turning her attention to the pan-Asian fare that’s made Myers + Chang so popular. As in the M + C kitchen, Chang is teaming up with chef Karen Akunowicz and husband-restaurateur Christopher Myers to bring the best of the South End spot to your own stove top. Here, she reflects on recipe selection, writing with Akunowicz and what to expect from the forthcoming book.
Can you give us a rundown of the new Myers + Chang cookbook?
I’ve been wanting to write this book since the first cookbook. I wrote Flour and assumed that if I were to write another cookbook it would be a Myers + Chang book. What ended up happening was Flour, Too and at that point I said, “Okay, now I’m ready to write Myers + Chang.” Then my publisher proposed the idea of Baking With Less Sugar. So, I did that. And now, I feel like finally it’s time. What’s nice about the timing is that we just signed the deal in the last couple weeks, and after a year of testing recipes and taking photographs and a year to put it into production, it will actually come out on our tenth anniversary, which will be September of 2017.
Will the book be dishes from the menu, dishes inspired by the menu, or both?
It’s dishes from the menu, both current and past. It’s definitely meant to be a hands-on book. We want people to take it and be able to replicate what we make at the restaurant at home. Karen and I have spent a lot of time talking about how specific to be, and we just keep saying to ourselves: “If I’m a home cook, what information do I need? What is important for me to know in terms of equipment? And if I have to go to an Asian store, then what do I look for?” We’re really trying to make it super usable and accessible. Because we’ve had so many requests over the years—you know, people will fall in love with a favorite dish or two at the restaurant and they’ll say “I want to make this at home”—we kind of worked up a little roster of recipes anyway. Now we’re just trying to formalize that and spread it to everybody.
So, it’s geared towards non-professional home cooks. Anybody at home could try it without any fancy equipment or an army of prep cooks.
Exactly. And that helps dictate what we were going to put in the book. There are some recipes, for example, like the wok-charred octopus with grilled corn that we love. I just don’t know that people are really going to buy octopus. So we decided to omit the octopus and do the corn as a side.
What’s the degree of difficulty? It sounds like you’re going for pretty approachable.
Yeah, approachable. I don’t want it to sound like it’s not going to have all of the great recipes with a lot of great technique. If you’re a total novice, we’re going to help you figure out how to make Mama Chang’s dumplings. But if you have some experience in the kitchen, some experience with Asian cooking, we still have enough interesting recipes with cool ideas and great techniques that you’ll get a lot out of this book as well.
So you’re an old pro at the cookbook thing, Karen is totally new at it. With this being your fourth cookbook, are there things that you’re looking forward to about starting the process again?
Yeah! I mean, again, for me, this is going to be really fun because I’ve been wanting to do this cookbook for…gosh, five years, I guess. A lot of these recipes are recipes that are very personal to me. They’re recipes that I grew up with, or that I’ve been making for me and Christopher, or that we’ve been making at the restaurant. And I think the same for Karen—there are a lot of recipes in the book that she’s created. I think it’s been a really fun challenge for her to come into this restaurant that had already been open for four years and to take the menu and kind of make it her own. I’m excited to work with her on this. She’s got such a great teaching voice. She’s very clear, and she really makes it sound like she’s right there with you. You know, she anticipates: “You’re going to end up with a quart of extra this, and this is what it’s really good for, if you just pop it in your freezer, and you’ll be grateful in a couple weeks when you’re looking for a snack.” She’s very warm and engaging, and I think her voice is going to really come through.
Are there parts of the process that you’re looking forward to slightly less?
I think the thing that we’re both aware of is that it is a time-consuming venture. We’ve written a schedule, and she’s testing recipes every week. I’m testing after she tests them, and rewriting them. There’s a lot to juggle. That’s one thing I know from having done books—everyone always asks: “How do you fit it in?” You have to look at your schedule every single day, and say: “Okay. There’s 24 hours in a day, and I’ve got to spend x number of them sleeping and eating and hanging out with my spouse or friends or whatever, I’ve got to spend y number of them working on my regular job, and then I have to spend z number of hours working on this book.” And you just have to pencil it in and commit to it. We’re entering into a really busy season in the restaurant. There’s a lot going on. But we just signed the deal a couple weeks ago and she started testing recipes right away.
It must be a slightly different head space writing for this cookbook as opposed to a baking cookbook. Just given that baking is all about precision, how does it differ for you?
Yeah, I was just editing some of the recipes that Karen sent to me earlier this week, and it’s hard for me as a pastry cook because I want everything to be measured, how much salt, how much pepper. I’m trying to balance being too precise, where I think that would be unapproachable and daunting, versus being just so loosey-goosey that you don’t end up with the right results. I have to learn to scale back a little bit.
What is the official name of the cookbook going to be?
One thing I learned from Baking With Less Sugar is that there’s a lot of books out there that have cute names, but if they don’t tell you what the book is about, it can be hard to sell the book. We had a lot of really creative names for Baking With Less Sugar, and then finally we settled on: “What is this book about? It’s about baking with less sugar. Let’s just call it that.” We’ll probably come up with a bunch of really creative ideas for this title, but we may end up with something really straightforward, like Myers + Chang at Home. [Laughs.]
Anything you’d like people to know?
I guess one thing I’m really looking forward to is working with Christopher on this book. The whole book is about the spirit of the restaurant, along with, obviously, the recipes. We’ve always had fun when we write together. I’m excited to have him put his voice on the parts of the book that he’s involved with.