EXECUTIVE CHEF/OWNER – NARA RESTAURANT
Donald Chang, a native South Korean who has lived in Houston for more than 35 years, is the Executive Chef/Owner of Nara Restaurant, the first modern Korean-inspired kitchen in Houston. Chang opens Nara after 23 years in the restaurant industry as the Chef/Owner of several Japanese restaurants, including Uptown Sushi, Bluefin and the first Nara, which he opened in 1996 at the age of 26.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Chang moved to the United States with his family as a young child. He lived in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama for a year each before moving to Houston at the age of seven. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Texas and University of Houston before he was introduced to Japanese Master Chef Shoichi Ikeda through a mutual friend and quickly fell in love with classical Japanese cuisine.
Chang left school to apprentice under Chef Shoi at the original Miyako Japanese Restaurant on Westheimer Rd. In five years of understudy, during which time he became Miyako’s General Manager and Head Chef, Chang developed a passion and skill for intuitively integrating aspects of other ethnic cuisine with Japanese foods.
In 1996, Chang opened his first restaurant, Nara – Houston’s first tablecloth Japanese fusion restaurant – at 11124 Westheimer. He hired Shinichi Miura, a first-generation chef from Japan, of Seattle to be his Head Sushi Chef. Chef Shoi was so excited about the concept that he left his previous employer to join Nara, which remained open until 2005.
In 2000, Chang lived briefly in Austin, where he helped open several Japanese restaurants as a consultant. He returned to Houston in 2001 to create the menu and train the staff as Executive Chef at his younger brother Daniel Chang’s new restaurant, The Fish, which continues to be a successful Midtown sushi hotspot.
After 18 months at The Fish, Chang opened Uptown Sushi in Uptown Park as Executive Chef/Owner in 2003. He remains owner of Uptown Sushi, one of Houston’s most celebrated sushi spots over the last decade. Chang also opened Bluefin restaurant in the Westchase area in Fall 2006 and sold it in 2008.
As a professional chef, Chang continues to explore new concepts in traditional and modern cuisine. Much of his culinary inspiration comes from travels to locales such as the Caribbean, Canada, French Polynesia, Thailand, Hawaii, the East and West Coasts of the U.S., France, Japan and Korea. His original love for Korean cuisine comes directly from his mother, Kyong Ja Chang, who has prepared Korean meals for his family for 40-plus years.
Chang also draws influence from Chef Shoi, his mentor with whom he worked for 17 years, and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, whom Chang strongly admires as one of the pioneers of Japanese fusion cuisine. Chang met Chef Nobu at his famed Matsuhisa restaurant in Beverly Hills shortly before opening Uptown Sushi and had a chance to trade recipes with the master chef, whose food Chang has studied inside and out.
Chang has trained more than 50 chefs during his 23-year career, and many of his protégés have become successful restaurateurs locally and throughout Texas. His influence can found in many top sushi restaurants in Houston, Dallas and Austin.
Chang and his wife Janet have a two-year old daughter, Sophie. They are active members of New Life Fellowship Church in Northwest Houston and frequently volunteer their time at the Road to Recovery Halfway House in North Houston and local children’s charity groups.