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A legend brings latest restaurant to the ’Burg

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Peter Chang’s mission to bring authentic Chinese cuisine to the United States in a style Americans enjoy will soon make its latest stop in Fredericksburg.

Since coming to the United States 12 years ago for a job as private chef at the Chinese embassy in Washington, Chang has been studying what foods Americans like. He’s categorized Chinese restaurants in the United States into three categories: buffets, Americanized Chinese food and takeout joints.

Chang doesn’t want to be any of the above. Instead he has developed a cooking style that is true to his Chinese roots but with some twists that Americans love.

It certainly seems to be working. Chang has developed a cult-like following and garnered numerous accolades over the past decade while working at restaurants in Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee. He’s also developed a reputation for vanishing shortly after people begin flocking to his restaurants and later reappearing somewhere else.

Chang’s wandering days now seem behind him. A couple of years ago he and business partner Gen Lee opened a Peter Chang restaurant in Charlottesville, and since then they have opened locations in Richmond and Williamsburg.

On Friday, Chang will open his fourth Virginia restaurant in a 4,000-square-foot space that used to be home to China Jade at 1771 Carl D. Silver Parkway in Fredericksburg’s Central Park. The restaurant will be open daily for lunch and dinner.

Chang will spend most of his time at the Fredericksburg location during its initial months, said business partner Stone Shi, who went to college with Chang in China. Chang has also developed a process to train Chinese chefs in his spicy Szechuan cooking style, which will be increasingly important as he opens more restaurants.

Chang started honing his cooking style growing up in Hubei province in east–central China. He grew up poor and saw a cooking career as both a ticket out and a way to fill his stomach.

Shi recalls Chang obsessively practicing his food-cutting skills while in college. While Shi learned English, Chang never did. Shi translated for Chang during an interview for this article.

Chang won the position at the Chinese embassy after being named one of China’s top chefs. Magazines including Bon Appetit and Travel + Leisure have since declared him and his restaurants among the best in the U.S.

Chang gets the majority of his ingredients from China. He is known for using large amounts of peppers, a vegetable that is on the Peter Chang sign outside his new Fredericksburg eatery. He tries to cook a healthy blend of meats and vegetables and uses no MSG.

Chang personally developed the majority of the more than 75 menu items at his restaurant. Among his best-known dishes are dry-fried eggplant, cilantro fish rolls and bamboo fish.

Chang plans future locations in Virginia Beach, Northern Virginia and downtown Richmond next, and within a decade he hopes to make it a national brand.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405