It’s all about family at Fairfax’s Mama Chang restaurant

When chef Peter Chang launched his latest restaurant concept, he made it a family affair.

Chef Peter Chang’s new restaurant is a tribute to the women in his life, including (from left) daughter Lydia and wife Lisa. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

When Lydia Chang was brainstorming ideas for her father’s next restaurant, she looked to the women in her family for inspiration.

“I started by listing the things that I loved eating growing up, things that were cooked by my mom and grandma, and the list didn’t stop,” recalls Lydia, who works on the business side of the Peter Chang restaurant empire.

That long list eventually became the foundation for Peter Chang’s newest restaurant concept, Mama Chang, which opened in Fairfax City on March 8 (on International Women’s Day, of course).

And, as families all across the region book their Mother’s Day plans for May 12, the new restaurant feels like a particularly fitting place to celebrate.

“The idea behind Mama Chang is to focus on family recipes that have been in the family from generation to generation,” says Lydia. “It’s really a tribute to the moms.”

The menu focuses on homestyle cooking, a method that traditionally falls to the women in Chinese homes.

“Historically, in Chinese households, the very traditional Chinese households, it’s the woman who cooks, catering to the whole family,” explains Peter Chang. “The meal is focused on a little bit of something for everyone. So really, to call it homestyle cooking, is cooking that is made by moms.”

Peter’s wife, Lisa Chang, has always been behind the scenes in her husband’s successful kitchens (she’s the mastermind behind the must-order scallion bubble pancake), but this new concept marks the first time she’ll also serve as a face of the restaurant as one of the “mamas.”

Photo courtesy of Mama Chang

The pair met years ago on a cruise ship, where they both worked as chefs (and she was actually more established than him at the time). Since those early days, they’ve been creating popular restaurants and must-try dishes like the green pepper pickled mustard pork, which is on the Mama Chang menu. The dish is fairly standard, but Lydia recalls her friends clamoring for her mother’s version of it when she was a kid.

“I would have friends come over for an afternoon snack and they would see the leftovers of what I had for lunch and, without heating it up, they would start going in for it, couldn’t stop,” she recalls. “My friends would say, ‘This is like what we cook at home too, but why does yours taste so much better?’ That’s when I realized my family has this recipe that, even though we’re cooking the same thing, our recipe is better.”

On Mother’s Day, you’ll find Lisa in the kitchen and Lydia on the floor, welcoming families to Mama Chang. They’ll be too busy to celebrate Mother’s Day, but, luckily, cooking is one way they bond.

“In China, there are long national holidays,” says Lydia. “Instead of traveling, we would always close up the house and cook every meal side by side.” Sounds like a happy Mother’s Day, indeed. // 3251 Old Lee Highway, Fairfax

This post originally appeared in our May 2019 issue. Want more family features? Subscribe to our weekly family newsletter.

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