Humble Chef Finds the Recipe for Industry Success
By Lea Thompson
Photography By Natalia Sun
Chef Teddy Liang doesn’t have a problem with the spotlight. But he feels most in his element when he’s in the kitchen, working his terms. “I’d rather be like MacGyver,” Liang says. “I always want to learn; I want to have a solution for any problem.”
Like the popular TV protagonist, Liang, 31, has solved many seemingly ‘impossible’ situations. Even as a 17-year-old dishwasher at a Genghis Grill in San Antonio, Liang was eager to learn every aspect of the restaurant business — cooking, serving, bartending, consulting, and even working as an assistant manager— before striking out on his own in 2015.
Liang continued to cook for diverse projects, but he landed on San Antonio’s restaurant radar when he became the Chef de Cuisine at Hanzo Gastropub in 2017. Liang has since forged a unique path working as a private chef for high-profile clients (including several NBA players), an unofficial industry guidance counselor, and a world-traveling chef. Even those unfamiliar with Liang’s reputation can find his impact across San Antonio’s dining scene. His restaurant consulting work has helped revitalize and launch some of San Antonio’s most beloved restaurants like Sari-Sari Filipino Restaurant, The Hayden, and Dashi Sichuan Kitchen + Bar. After years of working behind the scenes, Liang has earned his reputation as a culinary MacGyver.
You seem always to be working. When do you take a break?
There are no days off when it comes to supporting others. I took off seven days total in 2021. Restaurants needed more help in 2020 and 2021. I figure I have the time and the energy now, so I should do it now. And this work doesn’t feel like work. It’s fun. My goal is to take on one less project this year.
How do you define or measure success?
I ask myself this often. I measure [success] by the number of people I’ve impacted. There have been people who reach out over the years and say, ‘you have no idea what you did for me; you changed my life.’ I do what I can to connect people with opportunities and partners. I’ve gotten to a point in my career as a chef, and I’ve had so many experiences that I never even dreamed possible when I started working in kitchens 12 years ago.
I know so many incredible people will ultimately succeed with or without me. So, why not do what I can to help? Why not do more? Why not do better?
Who would you say has been the biggest mentor in your career?
There are so many, but I would say my biggest mentor is my father, Alan Liang. [He often says], “In every person’s life you need to write your book, your story; each journey leads to the next chapter. Who will see that story, and what will you do about it?”
Where can we see you at work in 2022?
I hope to travel more this year and make time for more food adventures, and I’m still working with the local Chef Cooperatives. This spring, I’m helping Jeff Banks and his partners open Conversa —a new upscale lounge bar with a dining experience upstairs and a bar upstairs. It’s going to be Caribbean-style cooking in an elegant yet accessible setting.
I also just sat down with the IDEA school district to set up a cooking demo event with San Antonio Spurs legend David Robinson to help raise funds for his scholarship program in May.
Oh, is that all?
No. [laughs] And I still get calls from chefs or restaurants I’ve worked with over the years, asking me to stop by or help. Right now, for me, my work is purely understanding and supporting our city. But it’s also so much fun.