5 Questions with Baker Joanne Chang

Chef Joanne Chang is a pastry chef, restaurateur and No Kid Hungry champion living in Boston, MA. Joanne has been a committed supporter of our work through Boston’s Taste of the Nation and Boston’s No Kid Hungry Dinner, a fundraising event where she and her husband were honored in 2016.

In 2020, Chang joined Share Our Strength’s Board of Directors, a group of leaders responsible for helping set the direction of Share Our Strength and make sure the organization is fulfilling its mission. We’re proud to feature her and share her story today.

You graduated from Harvard with honors and a degree in applied mathematics and economics; can you point to a particular moment that prompted you to pursue your love of pastry and baking?

After graduation I spent 2 years as a management consultant. I helped my company's undergraduate recruiting program, traveling to area colleges to interview prospective applicants. My introductory interview question was an icebreaker: If you won the lottery what would you do? After asking literally hundreds of students that question I began to ask myself the same question! If I won the lottery I would quit my job and pursue baking and cooking professionally. So that's what I did.

You’ve supported our work in so many ways—through our events, advocacy and now through your role on the board of directors of Share Our Strength, the organization behind No Kid Hungry. Do you have a favorite story or experience working with us?

Anyone who has heard Billy Shore (Share Our Strength’s cofounder) speak at a fundraiser won't be surprised. Every time I hear him talk about our work I am re-energized and re-invigorated and re-inspired… All of the “re”s!! I’ve learned that great leadership is about having a clear vision and communicating that consistently to all who will listen. 

This is the crux of every speech Billy gives. Making sure we all understand the common goal of ending childhood hunger. I have to say that I especially enjoy the stories about Nate, Billy’s son, that preface every speech. I’ve been fortunate to get to know Nate personally and he’s even smarter and funnier than Billy lets on!

In 2019, you joined a group of chefs on Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to protect programs that feed kids in the summertime. What stuck with you from that experience?

Two things stuck out and neither of them were actually on The Hill (although meeting our lawmakers was very inspiring and thought-provoking). One was visiting a meal distribution site for kids near a park. It was summertime so schools were not in session and it hit me like a ton of bricks that, without school, a lot of kids simply don’t get breakfast or lunch. A second impactful memory was visiting a grocery store in one of the lower income neighborhoods. There were hardly any fresh vegetables or fruits; many customers had shopping carts full of processed foods that were cheap and filling but not very nutritious. It's hard to feed kids well when not only do you have a limited budget but your options are also minimal.

The culinary industry is changing so rapidly. How do you see the role of chefs evolving in the coming years?

The industry used to be able to operate a little under the radar in terms of workplace treatment and conditions and pay and benefits. Chefs and owners have an opportunity—make that a responsibility—to make working in the food industry sustainable and desirable. Offering parental leave, vacation time, sick time, paid holidays, 401k programs, regular performance reviews and raises, career path training and mentorship are among the benefits that most other industries offer. 

If we want to continue to attract and retain great talent we need to do the same as other industries. That might mean increasing prices or rewriting menus but we are already seeing a deficit of staff across the country so we must make changes to adapt.

Finally, you are known to many people in the culinary industry as a trusted leader and mentor. What’s one piece of wisdom you can share with the next generation of chefs and activists?

Chef Joanne Chang in front of a wedding cake

That is so kind. My husband has been my role model and mentor throughout my whole career and most especially in this area. He taught me that using any success and platform we might earn to give back is the best way to keep the positive cycle moving forward. You know that saying, if you love your job you won't work a day in your life? Giving back— your time, your money, your passion—is the same. Sharing your voice and your energy to help those around you will make you stronger and better because you will receive so much more than you give.

Today, 1 in 6 children in the US could be living with hunger. Chefs— like Joanne— continue to step up and find creative ways to ensure all kids have access to the meals they need to thrive. Stay tuned for more stories about champions supporting No Kid Hungry.