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Tradition Meets Innovation in the Kitchen of Kathy Fang '00'96

Tradition Meets Innovation in the Kitchen of Kathy Fang '00'96

With a nod to her distinguished culinary family, Kathy Fang '00'96 draws inspiration from her childhood growing up in her parents' beloved Chinatown restaurant, while blazing her own trail with a blend of new ingredients and flavors.

The following is an interview with Kathy Fang, originally published in the 2019–20 Convent & Stuart Hall Bulletin. 

How did you discover your passion for cooking?
Ever since I was young I have loved cooking. I would stand on a chair and beg to do even the most mundane kitchen tasks, such as washing vegetables or slicing ginger or green onions for my parents. The day my grandmother let me cook one dish all by myself, from start to finish, was one of my proudest moments as a child. Moments like that, along with my desire to try to make anything I loved eating on my own, made it very apparent to me that cooking would play a huge part in my life.

When did you realize you wanted to turn your childhood food experiences into a culinary career?
When I was growing up, following my passion, which felt like a hobby at the time, wasn't encouraged. Finding a stable and admirable job was what was expected of me, and being a chef didn't t that mold. I grew up thinking how glamorous it would be to work in the corporate world, walking around in a power suit holding a briefcase. It wasn't until I went into the corporate world that I realized I had made a huge mistake not pursuing the one thing I loved most. I didn't feel excitement or have any desire for growth at the companies where I worked. It was depressing. I knew then that I had to get out and just go do what I love most.

How is Fang different from the restaurant your parents opened?
Well, for one, Fang is much bigger than House of Nanking, which seats around 40 guests. Fang seats up to 350 guests at one time. Fang is also more modern and hip; we have a full bar and a very open dining space where people can feel comfortable just hanging out while dining on delicious Chinese food and throwing back some drinks. House of Nanking, on the other hand, has an old iconic feel. It still has a lot of the old elements dating back 30 years, along with all the press and awards we've collected hanging on the walls. It's small, crowded and loud. You wait a long time to get in, only to have one of the quickest, most delicious Chinese meals of your life in under 30 minutes.

How do you choose new ingredients and dishes for your menu?
I find inspiration for new dishes and ingredients through traveling and experiencing other cuisines. I learn so much from eating food that's not Chinese, and when I combine these flavors and ingredients with Chinese dishes, it helps me be more creative. I also travel to Hong Kong and Shanghai regularly just to check out their food trends because it's always evolving over there.

In addition to running Fang, what else keeps you busy?
I'm a new mom, so that's been a big life change! My baby girl definitely keeps me busy. She's also inspired me to start a new business venture. Early last year I launched a baby food business as a passion project. I've been working on Bon Petit Baby Food during my breaks between lunch and dinner service at Fang. The rest of the time I try to devote to my baby girl, my husband, friends and family. I also write about food, fitness and health for various publications. I'm always trying to stay on top of trends in these categories since they all play a huge role in my life. And finally, when time allows, I do occasional television appearances and food competitions.

What was it like to compete on — and win — an episode of the Food Network show Chopped?
The first episode I went on was the most nerve-wracking. I worried about blanking when I saw the mystery basket; I worried that I'd forget an ingredient. I was just running through every negative situation that could occur in my mind before stepping up to compete. But once the competition began and I had the ingredients in my hands, everything fell into place and I got this sense of controlled excitement. I used that energy to focus on the task at hand. And when I won, it was just an incredible moment. I felt proud, excited, anxious and validated all at the same time.

What advice would you give parents who want to cook with their children at home?
Start as early as possible, and don't be a control freak in the kitchen! Let your kids take control so they can have a sense of ownership and pride over the food they make. Encourage them to be creative with food and ask them for input on how they would like to prepare a certain dish you're serving. And finally, make it a fun family activity. Try making your own pancakes or pizza or pie, something you all can work on together while putting your own spin on it.

What do you remember most about your time at Convent?
I have so many fond memories of Convent. One of my favorite memories is decorating Easter eggs after school. We would melt wax and create designs on the eggs, dye them and then add more wax designs to dye until we ended up with really intricate Easter eggs. It was such a unique and fun way of decorating eggs that stuck with me all these years.

What do you think you've carried with you from your Convent days?
I've carried a confidence and a healthy upbringing during what could have been a difficult and tumultuous time for a teenager (high school). But what really made a huge difference for me was the fact that Convent was a small, close-knit community. I knew all the girls and their families. The faculty felt like family to us because they personally knew each and every student and were greatly involved with the school, from teaching to coaching sports. By the time I graduated and entered college, I had grown into a strong and confident woman ready to take on anything. And I still feel that way when I start something new.