This is the first installment in a two-part interview with chef Alex Chang. You can find the second installment here.
Alex Chang, executive chef of Vagabond Restaurant in Miami, pretty much defines what it means to be a modern Wunderkind. The 25-year-old self-taught chef (he learned to cook by reading Rachel Ray cookbooks as a teen) gained fame as a student at USC when he and his roommate launched an impromptu supper club called Paladar. The underground “restaurant” gained so much attention that a filmmaker decided to make a documentary about it, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. After college, Chang (whose background is Chinese and Mexican), cooked at restaurants around the world such as Lazy Ox Canteen and Animal in Los Angeles, Les Creations de Narisawa in Tokyo, Restaurante Pujol and Quintonil in Mexico City, and Belgium’s Michelin-rated restaurant: In De Wulf.
Upon seeing Chang’s film, international restaurateur Alvaro Perez Miranda asked him to helm the kitchen at Vagabond Hotel's newly revamped restaurant, Located in the Miami Modern (MiMo) historical district. Chang’s worldly approach and culturally diverse background fit perfectly with the global “Vagabond” cuisine envisioned they for the space.
Since opening six months ago, the restaurant’s high-energy vibe and kitschy décor mixed with Chang’s bold, universal menu has been a major hit. He spoke to us about adjusting to Miami from L.A., the challenges of local and seasonal cooking, and how insects are the wave of the future.
The Daily Meal: You are pretty much self-taught — you started cooking after reading cookbooks, then you traveled and worked in kitchens in L.A. and abroad. How would you compare the two styles of learning?
Alex Chang: I think you can’t compare to the real thing. Those experiences shaped my development, my technique—even the lessons you learn in life more than anything. But there’s a fair amount that’s really good about learning from books because you can absorb it the way you want to at your own pace and think stuff through in different ways. Most chefs are really avid cookbook collectors and I’m definitely one of them. That’s how I’m here—Internet and cookbooks—I didn’t know anything before.