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Harvard Grad Throws Down in Kitchen

Chang ’91 emerges victorious on Food Network

By Margot E. Edelman and Laurence H. M. holland, Crimson Staff Writers

A group of undergraduates escaped the sticky prices and sticky wages of Ec 10 lectures yesterday for their counterpart in the food world—sticky buns.

The Food Network yesterday taped an episode of its hit television show “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” in Joanne B. Chang ’91’s Boston bakery, holding a cook-off between Chang and celebrity chef Flay that was judged in part by Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS)’s top chef.

The taping, which the Food Network invited 95 undergraduates to watch, was part of a gimmick in which Flay surprises a chef in an area in which he or she is an expert—in Chang’s case, sticky buns—and challenges the chef at his or her own game.

Chang said that she had been told that she would be filmed making her famous buns as part of a summer series called “Sweet Treats.”

“[The Food Network] had explained to me that part of the show would be demo-ing sticky buns in front of an audience, so they got a group of students from Harvard to be the audience. In the middle of the demo, Bobby Flay walks in and I realized that it was not the ‘Sweet Treats’ episode—it was ‘Throwdown,’” she said. “I was very surprised.”

The taping took place in Flour Bakery, the Boston establishment owned by Chang, where a makeshift kitchen had been assembled.

When Flay sneaked in and challenged Chang to a “sticky bun throwdown,” Chang responded unfazed: “Bring it.”

The undergraduates cheered on their alumna during the bake-off, invoking sacred Harvard rivalries to encourage their home competitor.

At one point, when Flay began to assemble his buns in a way that Chang diplomatically called “different,” one student in the audience yelled “That’s how they do it at Yale.”

The hometown advantage held up: Chang was judged the champion of the episode.

Unexpected twists are nothing new for Chang. An Applied Math and Economics concentrator while at Harvard—she baked cookies for the Leverett Grill while an undergrad in the house—Chang abandoned her post-college job as a management consultant and switched to her real passion: baking.

“I know Bobby so it was pretty exciting,” she said of yesterday’s event. “I thought he was just going to be in town and come visit the bakery.”

Tiffany M. Meites ’07, a self-proclaimed avid cook who has lived in DeWolfe for three years in part to have access to a kitchen, gave a detailed critique of the buns.

“Bobby Flay’s were good and a different creative take—an orange glaze with cinnamon inside—whereas [Chang’s] were more traditional, with a caramel glaze and roasted pecans and raisins inside,” Meites said. “I think flavor-wise both were very good, but in terms of quality of dough and overall balance between flavor, presentation, and what you would imagine the ideal sticky bun to be, Joanne won out over Bobby Flay.”

—Laurence H. M. Holland contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Margot E. Edelman can be reached at medelman@fas.harvard.edu.

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