Fat Mama turned out to be a wiry German. Not what we expected, but exactly what we wanted.
Owl, my Sith Apprentice flew down from Beijing to visit the bright lights of Shanghai during the Spring Festival. We decided to take a tour of the one-off restaurants that weren’t part of a franchise. Fat Mama had a brief, but promising description in a magazine I read.
I told her to give Fat Mama a call.
Owl: “Is this Fat Mama Restaurant?”
Chef: “Well were more of a café’, not a restaurant formal. Per se’.”
Owl: “Oh, ok. Well what time do you close?”
Chef: Well it depends on how many people are coming. 4, or 5-ish.
Owl: “OK, Thanks.” (Puzzled!)
His accent is what made her want to meet him.
The Fat Mama Café is decorated with pictures and posters of Italian theatre and movies. It’s not a stereotypical homage to Italian gangsters that most places turn into when they decorate. It’s sparse, and tactfully done. The wall behind the open-air kitchen is decorated with a semi permanent menu that accompanies the fresh menu that Stefan prepares every day
Chef Stefan Lange also carries the title of Mamas Favourite. I suspect it’s because he is a man who earned his stripes and street-cred kneading endless buckets of dough with his hands. He’s a powerfully lean man who trained in some of the more harsh kitchens the world has to offer.
His hands are a blur, and a lesson in the economy of motion. No movement spared, exaggerated, or wasted. When I asked if I could take a picture of him at work preparing our meal he said “No problem” without even looking up. He didn’t slow down, make a spectacle, or behave at all like a man who had something to prove for a camera.
Simply getting to the point where it was time for him to prepare what we ordered was a journey. It was a very slow day in Shanghai because during the Spring Festival, most people leave the city to visit other places. When we walked in, I understood why he wasn’t sure what time he’d close. There was only one other table occupied. There were four, giggly, aggravating girls sitting at a table.
They vacillated between obnoxiously loud and sincerely aggravating.
At one point, Chef had no choice but to fall into the stereotype of a surly, curt chef that didn’t have the patience to deal with people like them. One woman squeaked a little louder than was comfortable for anyone, he looked at her and her entire entourage/courtier and said “LADIES” . He spoke in a tone that wasn’t threatening, but made it clear that he would not hesitate to step out from behind his carefully manicured island of Mise En Place to physically escort them out of his restaurant. He was justified, I don’t think he wanted to become that man, but he had to in order to bring those girls back to earth. They were acting as if his entire restaurant was their home kitchen and they had no idea that other guests had the right to a peaceful meal.
The waitress that served us was courteous, enthusiastic, and ninja-like in her ability to make sure plates were cleared and drinks were refilled while barely making her presence known. When she brought the menus, I thought that I was looking at some sort of new, fancy typeface or font. Then something struck me as familiar. It was tickling at the back of my brain.
It wasn’t script, it was handwriting!
Handwriting nearly as awful as my own! After slogging through a few sentences, I had to raise my hand and call for help. The waitress was occupied, so Chef Stefan came over. I managed to be as non-offensive as possible (a struggle for me) when I just broke down and admitted that I could barely read it.
Then the most unexpected, thing happened, he smiled!
He smiled a big, toothy grin and admitted that quite a few people suggested that he simply have it typed out, but that would deprive him of the opportunity to meet so many of his guests when they asked for a “translation”. We all had a good chuckle!
We spent the next few minutes talking about his journey to get to where he is in his career and his plans for expansion in between in-depth descriptions of the delicacies he had to offer. He also carries a compliment of international drinks and ingredients for people who want to buy things to take home and try for themselves.
I settled on a meat lasagna entrée to split with Owl. I can’t put my finger on each and every last ingredient, but it was an amalgamation of meats and cheeses so good that Owl attempted to fight me, ME for the last bite! Clearly, anything that tastes so good that it would cause her to question my inviolate authority was worth taking a few risks.
I decided to take a risk of my own.
I am not a fan of sugar. I’ve often opted for a second main course when everyone else was choosing a dessert. This time I broke character and ordered one of the chocolate confectionary delights. I was not disappointed! It was dense and rich, full of flavour but not excessive sugar.
The next time I stray from the road of righteous eating habits and delve into the realm of culinary decadence, I’m going to visit Fat Mama.
You can find Chef Stefan Lange and The Fat Mama at:
1000 Changping Lu, near Yanping Lu
Show this to any Chinese taxi Driver: 昌平路1000号， 近延平路
PHONE: 138 1733 0263
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org , Stefan@fat-mama.com