This is the second installment in a two-part interview with chef Alex Chang. You can find the first installment here.
The Daily Meal: When you go to a restaurant as a diner, what signs do you look for that it will be a good experience?
Alex Chang: I like simplistic stuff, I like minimal stuff. I don’t like a lot of smoke and mirrors. I rather just eat really, really delicious food. When it comes down to just the food for me, its just about the seasoning — is there enough salt, enough acid. Most people miss the mark on that. I would rather have someone who can season food really well, then all this technique.
You have a lot of unique dishes that take people out of their comfort zones; is there any food you don’t like — takes you out of your comfort zone?
There are very few things I really don’t like…Natto (fermented soybeans). Other than that, there’s nothing that sets me back. I’m not a huge fan of green bell peppers. Raw I really don’t like, cooked is passable. I’ll still eat it, but I don’t really cook with it or I’ll never want to order it.
Leading up to this job, you were trying to figure out the food scene in Miami. Now that you’ve been here a few months, how has your perception of the city formed, has it changed?
When I first moved to L.A., I didn’t like it. I think it takes at least a year to understand and kind of get the rhythms of the city and the place. I was hesitant; I kind of always thought I would stay in Southern California, so I was—not a critic, but…I wasn’t necessarily all about it. I was like, OK I’m going to take this opportunity on, and the only good way to go about it is to give it a chance.
So, I think at first I was a little hesitant, but coming here I think the bad things about it are also the good things about it. Yeah, there may not be as many good restaurants as L.A. or New York, but I think that’s good because there’s a lot more opportunity — a chance to create something. Where in New York or L.A., you’re just fighting to stay above water. So I think there’s good things here, and there’s things to discover. I’m discovering lychee and passion fruit for summer and the six weeks of mango season, and it’s really, really cool. I don’t think anyone here has quite grasped a true localist seasonal menu because it’s so hard to grow vegetables for about four months. We try and use as much local as we can, but to get 100 percent where you’re sourcing everything from here, I wouldn’t say we’re there. There’s also a lot of infrastructure in terms of farms and distribution that isn’t where it needs to be. But it’s good because there’s an opportunity.
It sounds like you’ve been most influenced by your Asian background and those flavors from growing up in L.A., have you tapped into the South American flavors and cuisine of South Florida yet?
Yeah, I didn’t know too much about it to be honest. I didn’t know a lot about Cuban food or Venezuelan food, Colombian food. I knew a little bit about Peruvian food. But there’s a whole lot of really, really rich and exciting things happening, ingredients that they use that I wasn’t aware of. We’re just starting to scratch the surface on some of that stuff.