(MENAFN -Arab News) Philip Chiang, co-founder of P.F. Chang’s, was born in Shanghai and grew up in Tokyo before relocating to San Francisco.
In the early 1960s, his mother opened “The Mandarin,” one of the first Chinese restaurants in the United States to serve Chinese food from regions other than Canton. The Mandarin became widely known for its high-end cuisine and eventually led to a second location in Beverly Hills.
After graduating with a B.F.A. at the Art Center College of Design, Chiang ran The Mandarin for several years before opening an offshoot concept called the Mandarette in West Hollywood.
As a smaller, less expensive caf, the restaurant served “grazing food” which became an immediate hit and attracted the attention of restaurateur Paul Fleming. After successfully opening Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Beverly Hills, Fleming was looking for a new opportunity.
In 1992, Chiang agreed to consult on a Chinese restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona, where Fleming had recently relocated. One year later, the first P.F. Chang’s China Bistro opened and today, there are over 200 locations worldwide.
In his current role, Chiang acts as a culinary consultant to ensure P.F. Chang’s remains true to the restaurant’s original vision of creating great craveable food that guests cannot get anywhere else. He also oversees new dish development and is responsible for the current menu.
When Chiang is not consulting, he paints and pursues his love of the arts in Los Angeles. He also enjoys spending time with his daughter.
On his recent visit to Jeddah to promote opening the first franchise in Saudi Arabia, we met with him to learn more about his personal life and his restaurant.
You studied art but you decided to invest your time, money and energy in food. Why is that?
Because it doesn’t pay being an artist and its very difficult to make a good living off being an artist. I still paint though; I am a full-time painter. I don’t have a gallery and I paint in my loft in Los Angeles and I sell my work sometimes, but not through galleries.
Tell us about your art?
My art is nature inspired; I like things very nature and simple. I use oil or acrylic on canvas. I am very lazy and I don’t have any website or a gallery to exhibit my work even though I used to paint.
How did you create the first Chinese restaurant to reach across the world?
It was actually the real founder, Paul Fleming, and he has asked me to help him open a restaurant in Arizona with my food. It just got bigger and bigger from there. My part was always being involved as the culinary consultant and I’m still a consultant, but I have become the culinary and cultural ambassador for the brand, especially for the international openings.
How did you learn about food?
For the love of food, because my family always loved food where my father was a gourmet and my mother opened a restaurant and got into the business and it was only natural that I follow in their footsteps. It was in my blood I think.
What brings you to Jeddah?
I wanted to meet Saudi people who are our new guests and diners and I wanted to help promote opening the first P.F. Chang’s in Saudi Arabia.
Tell us about the Middle East market and how did it affect your business?
It has been wonderful. We opened our first restaurant in Kuwait and it has been amazing and the response has been better that expected. It pushed us to want to expand more in the region until we reached Saudi Arabia and we are optimistic about it and hope it will be another success story.
How did you first market for the restaurant when it first opened?
It's funny that we didn’t even think about marketing and we depended on word of mouth at first. It was so popular and we were doing great. This was before the Internet. It spread like wild fire in Phoenix and Arizona alone. It grew so fast and it has continued growing.
How often do you develop the menu?
Well now that the concept is in place, we have chefs that work in our corporate office that develop new items on the menu. We have seasonal items always added on the menu for each region, so I set the foundation for the food and they follow it. The basic framework is set and I still advise them and I work with local food products in the States.
Do you use the recipes your mother used in her restaurant?
Yes we do. That was the basis for when I started the business; it was her concept and her business and I just changed it to my nature. I changed the dishes and the recipes on the menu to my stye. San Francisco is very different from Los Angeles when it comes to lifestyle and culture so I had to adapt this to my living style in LA.
You mother’s restaurant was fine dining and you wanted yours to be casual dining. Why is that?
It’s my nature to be casual. She is from a different area and she is from an older generation. My generation prefers casual dining and likes to be in and out in a short time, where they dine out more frequently and spontaneously and casual dining work more with them and my nature.
What is your favorite Item on the menu?
A lot, but I don’t have a favorite. The chicken lettuce wrap, Mongolian beef and Chang’s chicken are definitely some of my favorites.
What is the next step for P.F. Chang’s?
We are going to keep expanding and making more food to satisfy our diners like we always do.
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