Erchen Chang of Bao London: ‘I’m happiest at home listening to music and drawing, while drinking whiskey’



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Erchen Chang, 32, is the creative director and co-founder of Bao, which made steamed Taiwanese buns popular in the UK. Bao started out as a street food stall and moved to its first permanent location in London in 2015.

What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
Being a designer of school uniforms. I thought the uniforms in Taiwan were so ugly. I wanted people to look great for the first 18 years of their lives.

Where did you go to school? Where did you train?
The Slade School of Fine Art in London. During college I started cooking quite a bit – self-taught.

What was the first dish you learned to cook?
I learned a lot by watching my grandmother. She’s like a team of one woman, an octopus that does everything.

Who was or is your mentor?
Brighid Lowe, my teacher at the Slade. The way she thinks really resonates with me. At Bao, we don’t just think about the dish, but about the whole experience: how you interpret it, how you connect culturally – it’s a bigger picture.

How physically fit are you?
I feel fit, although I am not sporty. But I can go on for a long time.

Breakfast or dinner: which one?
Breakfast. I came to London when I was 14, but I used to go back to Taiwan every school vacation and my mom and I went looking for the best breakfast spots.

Which technique did you find difficult to perfect?
Some chefs are amazingly intuitive, their kitchens are like theaters. I like knowing where I’m going and taking the time to design and cook, connecting the history behind a dish.

Which flavor do you always like?
Lu Weiss: a dish that is stewed in soy. Soy braised pork is famous, but you can cook many things in that simmer liqueur. Star anise in the stew is so nostalgic for me.

Which taste can you not tolerate?
I have the same feelings for lovage as some people don’t like coriander – something is going up my nose.

What equipment could you not live without?
My clay pot. A clay pot adds flavor and gives such warmth and depth to a dish. The earth divides and keeps the temperature even. It makes cooking that little bit extra tasty.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently own?
A wok burner, so I could cook with crazy fire. Even in Taiwan, a wok burner is not a thing in a domestic kitchen.

What is your biggest extravagance?
Going back to Asia at least once or twice a year to be exposed to the culture and taste.

Are you thinking about food waste?
I do, but I think I can do better.

What is your guilty food pleasure?
When I travel to Europe or on vacation, I sit and eat chips, drink beer and people watch. It should be thin chips and really cold beer. Time is the culprit element.

Where are you happiest?
Listening to music and drawing at home while drinking whiskey. I do the illustrations for Bao, so it’s both fun and work. And making bao sculptures, shaping the dough into an edible piece [of art]† The physicality of the repetition makes me happy.

Who or what makes you laugh?
Currently Larry David from Control your enthusiasm† I love how sarcastic and funny he is; 10 years ago I wouldn’t have understood it, now I’m really into it.

What ambitions do you still have?
To keep taking pictures and making food. I would like to have my own solo show – with bao sculptures or something. And the whole idea of ​​Bao and how it all started – the image of the lonely man eating a bao. My secret ambition is to help everyone find that perfect moment of solitude.

What is the happiest aspect of your life so far?
Every part. I am grateful.

What has been your biggest kitchen disaster?
When we first opened, our walk-in fridge broke several times. Everyone was grumpy. It was so hot it looked like a wet T-shirt match in the kitchen. We now have air conditioning!

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
“Hey, what are you doing?” – in a good way. It would never have occurred to me that I would use my taste buds as my skills.

Do you see yourself as an artist?
Yes – first and foremost.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Six. It’s a pretty good score, and it means there’s room to grow, to do more.

baolondon.com

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