Mama Chang is expected to open in Fairfax by late next week, bringing Northern Virginia a menu of “home-style” Chinese cooking from legendary former embassy chef Peter Chang that speaks to the way his family eats when women run the kitchen.
The new restaurant at 3251 Old Lee Highway will play up dishes from China’s central Hubei province that Chang’s mother would cook at home for his daughter, Lydia Chang, when her parents were busy feeding customers. Lisa Chang, an accomplished pastry chef and Peter’s wife, has also inspired the new project because of how she would wow houseguests with savory recipes.
“Obviously they assume it’s made by my dad, who’s the big chef in the family, but no, he doesn’t cook at home,” Lydia Chang says, adding, “I thought for the longest time that my mom was the secret weapon.”
Lydia Chang, who oversees business development for the family’s restaurant group, says that when the idea for a female-focused restaurant came into play, she started to count the recipes she loved growing up. “The list just doesn’t stop,” she says, selecting shredded pork with fried green pepper as a personal favorite.
The Chang family worked with Nahra Design Group, the same firm behind its Bethesda flagship, Q by Peter Chang, to construct a bright space to match the feminine theme. White tiled walls and an abundance of natural light help to achieve the goal. Layered wood — including lots of oak — completes the clean feeling. Ropes draped from the ceiling help the nearly 8,000-square-foot space feel cozier. Walls made out of curved, stacked tiles are repurposed from their traditional use in the Hubei province.
Wood-lined booths help break up the space. Large communal tables were “100 percent mandatory for a Chinese restaurant,” Lydia Chang says. “Everything is about sharing. You order a lot of different things and enjoy.”
The facade out front features attention-grabbing wooden beams that jut out from inside the restaurant and a logo that next to the Mama Chang sign that includes the traditional Chinese character for “mother.”
“If you can read Chinese,” Lydia Chang says, “hopefully you will find a little smile.”