A Sweet Celebration
THE ELEVATOR OPENS ON THE FIFTH FLOOR of the modern Chinatown loft building, and guests immediately know they’re in the right place.
Cinnamon. Maple. Butter. The wafting scents hit with a wallop, setting off audible stomach growls from the still-sleepy folks sharing the lift.
The source of this early-morning decadence? Joanne Chang’s kitchen, where the pastry chef is brushing hot, eggy popovers with melted butter and tossing them one by one into brown sugar. Chang’s husband, restaurateur Christopher Myers, greets visitors at the door to their condo, flashing a mischievous smile. He’s fluffed and coiffed his hair into a lopsided, gravity-defying faux-hawk — Flock of Seagulls–style — for no other purpose than to amuse his guests.
There’s good reason for Myers’s cheer: He and his wife are celebrating the season with a brunch feast for eight, replete with bubbly and, thanks to Chang, fantastic eats. When the two entertain, they don’t do it halfway. Chang, after all, is the force behind the renowned Flour Bakery + Café, which recently opened its third location, while Myers has been a partner in high-profile restaurants like Radius and Via Matta. The funky South End Asian bistro Myers + Chang is their joint project.
With the popovers complete, Chang whirls around her petite open kitchen, opening the freezer to check the status of her sorbet, then deftly glazing a maple-pecan breakfast cake, careful that no crumbs mar the smooth, glossy icing. A pastry chef since 1995, Chang’s a perfectionist when it comes to making sweets. The brunch recipes she’s using today are ones she’s tested and retested till they’re flawless; the popovers, breakfast cake, quiche, and sherbet/sorbet all appear in her new cookbook, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café, released last October.
As his wife works, Myers pours coffee and explains that the get-together was a good excuse to purchase new art for the condo. Indeed, on the wall adjacent to the brunch table and sleek suede-covered B&B Italia chairs, two huge canvases by Lincoln-based artist Lynette Shaw are ready to make their debut. Myers’s other contribution to the brunch festivities? “Wit,” he says with a smirk.
More guests begin to arrive, some bearing festive gifts. Esti Parsons, co-owner of Sam’s restaurant on Fan Pier, presents two bottles of pink prosecco. Carla and Christine Pallotta, who co-own the North End’s Nebo, come hauling a heavy cast-iron pot filled with goodies that, in the Italian tradition, promise positive things in the coming year. Dried lentils are supposed to bring wealth, Carla explains, and fatty porchetta signifies abundance. There’s also a card game called Scopa (meaning “sweep”), which helps to banish bad luck, and a wooden spoon for clanging against the pot lid when heralding the new year. As Christine demonstrates the technique, the rest of the guests make their entrance: Ashley Stanley, founder of the nonprofit food rescue Lovin’ Spoonfuls; Benson Willis, general manager of Harvard Square’s Hotel Veritas; and Dan Avery, owner of Bistro Accounting, which specializes in restaurants.
Chang finishes trimming the crust of her caramelized-onion-and-bacon quiche, and the hungry visitors immediately take their seats. Plates are passed and slices of breakfast cake disappear, and the conversation inevitably wanders into restaurant gossip and horror stories. By the time Myers pours a second round of sparkling wine, the guests are doubled over with laughs. Brunch feast or otherwise, everyone at the table agrees: There’s no sweeter way to celebrate than with a gathering like this.