2021 Miami Rising Star Game Changer Chefs Nando and Valerie Chang of Itamae

2021 Miami Rising Star Game Changer Chefs Nando and Valerie Chang of Itamae

As children in Chiclayo, Peru, the Chang siblings feasted on Chifa, the Chinese-Peruvian cuisine cooked by their grandmother. When their father, Fernando, immigrated to the U.S. for work, Nando would peel potatoes in a restaurant, and Valerie became her grandmother’s kitchen helper. 

In 2001, they joined their father in Miami. A businessman in Peru, Papa Chang found his calling in America as a sushi chef. A friend of Fernando’s hired Nando as a dishwasher, and he worked his way up until he became his father’s right-hand man. Fourteen-year-old Valerie picked up an absent server’s shift and got hooked on the restaurant lifestyle. Laboring away at a chain bakery, she dreamed of culinary school until she attended and realized it wasn’t for her. She traveled around the world, working at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Las Vegas and delving into the Nikkei cuisine of her homeland while staging at Albert AdriĆ ’s Michelin-starred Pakta in Barcelona. 

From 2014 to 2016, the family reunited to open a kosher Japanese restaurant in Surfside. By 2018, Valerie had left Peruvian traces on James Beard Award-winning Chef Michael Solomonov’s Dizengoff and Federal Donuts. Meanwhile, Nando pursued a career in rap music and pushed through 40-hour sushi shifts.

The Chang Gang partnered with Eric Saltzman and David Morales to set up its own venture in 2018: Itamae, a Nikkei food stall. The next year, they opened B-side Sushi by Itamae and took over the sushi bar in the Miami Heat’s American Airlines Arena. The standalone Itamae, a dream since the beginning, opened this past November. The siblings were semifinalists for James Beard’s Rising Star Chef in 2019, and Valerie received the honor again the next year.