Canadian Chef Profiles: Douglas Chang, Vancouver B.C

by Krlmagi

Chef Douglas Chang combines all of the various strands of his upbringing and restaurant experience with creative, seasonal food at Sai Woo in Vancouver B.C.

Chef Douglas Chang says that the initial spark for his culinary career was lit by his grandmother. He says, “She essentially raised me and she was a passionate, amazing person. She was known as the caretaker of the family and I think that’s where the interest in hospitality comes from.”

It wasn’t until his first year of university, says Chang, that he knew he had to take the culinary path. He explains that one of his friends went off to culinary school and he immediately thought he ought to follow suit. Initially he stayed in university but says, “There was the nagging feeling of, ‘I have to do this now otherwise I’ll never do it!’ ” He went off to Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Ottawa and his career took off from there.

Chef Douglas Chang
Chef Douglas Chang

Chang says that every chef he’s ever worked with has helped shape him as a chef but mentions a few who stand out for him. The first chef he talks about is Lorenzo Loseto from George restaurant in Toronto. Chang says, “He was the one that gave me my chance before I’d even gone to culinary school. He gave me an amazing opportunity and he taught me what cooking’s really about which isn’t just about the food. He taught me that there are so many other parts to it.”


He also talks about learning from Chef Steven Vardy at Beckta in Ottawa as well as Chef Daniel Humm at 11 Madison Park in New York and Warren Geraghty at West in Vancouver. Ultimately, Chang explains that all of these chefs influenced him equally.


When it comes to his approach to food and cooking, Chang says that he draws on the cumulative experiences he’s had as a chef. He says, “There are ideas that I got from working with other chefs, I take a small part of their way of thinking or their technique. I don’t know if there’s anything truly original in food. There are just infinite combinations of flavours and techniques.”


The inspiration for his dishes comes from many sources according to Chang. He says, “I draw on memories and past tastes. The jerk chicken for instance reminds me of my dad’s side of the family who are Jamaican. It reminds me of going to Hellshire Beach1 and having festival2 and fish escoveitch3. The pork belly was inspired by one of the dishes that my grandmother made.”

Sweet Nuggets: tamarind glazed sweetbreads, daily vegetables, smoked potatoes
Sweet Nuggets: tamarind glazed sweetbreads, daily vegetables, smoked potatoes

In terms of dishes of which he’s proud, Chang points out his tea-smoked tuna salad and the pork belly. He says, “I would say the tuna salad because people really like it right now. People really appreciate it and that makes me really happy. The pork belly for the fact that it’s my grandmother’s dish and it’s something that I hold dear to my heart.”


Seasonal menu changes, Chang says, are also important for him. He explains, “Right now it’s in between early spring and the end of winter but now it’s getting into summer. We’re working with lighter flavours and more seafood, less of the heavy meats although people crave some of that so I try to be accommodating to what our customers need.”


Ingredient sourcing is a matter of flavour for Chang. He says, “Usually it comes down to taste and generally what tastes good is what’s fresh and what comes from respecting the plant and the soil it comes from or the animal and the life that it lives.”

Tea-smoked tuna, confit tuna, wilted salad, miso vinaigrette and tea egg
Tea-smoked tuna, confit tuna, wilted salad, miso vinaigrette and tea egg

He adds that he builds relationships with his suppliers by going out to their farms or into farmer’s markets. He says, “For example, I’ve tried a bunch of different suppliers for pork but I went with Gelderman Farms. The farmer there, Jerry, has been doing it for a long time and his pigs have space to run. It definitely isn’t a factory farm. For produce, I get a lot of it from Shalefield Organic Gardens which is a biodynamic farm. They’re a bit more than organic. Their greens are amazing. The taste doesn’t lie.”


Chang says that he wants to embody care and compassion as a chef. He continues, “I think it’s important that we all cook together and work together. I’m on the pass most nights but other nights we switch and we’re on the line and we throw ideas back and forth. I like to create an environment where we play with ideas.”


The chef’s respect for care and compassion extends to what he looks for in his kitchen team. He explains, “I like to quote Lorenzo (Loseto) who said, “ ‘You can teach any monkey to cook, but you can’t teach a monkey a good attitude.’ That’s the most important thing. It’s such a tough job to work in that if you don’t truly care about it and love what you’re doing, it’s going to be the worst job ever.”


Motivation, for Chang, comes from simple things. He points out, “It comes from the people I work with, it comes from a guest comes up and says, ‘Thank you. That was the best meal I’ve eaten.’ That brings me genuine joy!”


1. Hellshire Beach: Hellshire Beach in Jamaica is famous for fried fish and safe swimming.

2. Festival: Jamaican cornmeal fritters.

3. Escoveitch: Fish marinated in vinegar, onions, carrots and Scotch bonnet peppers. From the Spanish escabeche.

Pork belly, fermented red tofu glazed pork belly, taro puree
Pork belly, fermented red tofu glazed pork belly, taro puree
Updated: 05/25/2015, Krlmagi
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