David Chang is a Korean-American chef who is known for his unique combination of Asian food and French technique. After graduating Trinity College, Chang worked briefly in the financial services before embarking upon his career as a chef. Chang attended the French Culinary Institute and opened his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, in Manhattan's East Village in 2003. Momofuku proved a resounding success; food critics as well as customers loved the restaurant's signature dishes, such as the Asian burrito and the kimchi and pork consomme.
In 2006, Chang opened his a second restaurant, Momofuku Ssam Bar. Chang was honored as both GQ and Bon Appetit's 2007 Chef of the Year. Chang is unapologetic about his food. "We do not serve vegetarian-friendly items," Chang has said. "Vegetarians are a pain in the ass as customers."
Question: How do New York’s restaurants measure up?
David Chang: New York’s pretty awesome, but it’s sort of stagnant right now.
As much as I love Tokyo; I haven’t been back there in a while to eat, or in Japan, all you can really get is Japanese food. Same thing goes in Italy. Same thing goes in France. Like that’s why people say that it [New York City] is the culinary capital of the world.
And that’s not not exaggerated. It’s because you can really get anything you want here. Such a hodgepodge of cultures and ethnicities, and it’s just a subway stop away from eating Russian food, or Ethiopian food or stuff like that.
And ethnic food is good, but it could be better. I think ethnic food in L.A. is tremendous.
But of all the places I go, I think New York’s got some of the best food around for sure. You know you can get anything. That’s the thing. It’s a bagel, and then for lunch you can get sushi. And then for dinner you can go get Chinese food. You can’t do that anywhere else in the world.
Question: Why is it so hard to open a restaurant in New York?
David Chang: Well you got enough time for this one?
I think there’s many reasons why New York’s tough to open up a restaurant. Probably the most difficult is the rising rents. The real estate is increasing, so it’s not forgiving to cooks that want to open up restaurants. They are now moving to other cities or outer boroughs. And if you move to the outer boroughs you’re not going to get the attention you need.
There’s more and more restaurants, so there’s less labor and less talent.
The city is becoming incredibly notorious for cracking down on regulations for the health department, the Environmental Protection Agency, all sorts of stuff. Or there was the rat debacle. They’re doing a great job.
But it’s hard enough to open up a restaurant and be successful, but there’s so many roadblocks that prevent you from maintaining that success. And it would be easier somewhere else outside of New York. But it’s just hard once you get your doors open just to be alive for a year. And then after that, gosh. Trends change. Cooks leave. It’s hard.
Question: Does the foodie scene help or hurt you?
David Chang: It’s wonderful. At least for us, the restaurant, we’ve been, again, incredibly lucky. For whatever reason foodies – or that word where people that enjoy food – like our restaurant a lot or hate it. We’re very beloved and very hated, and there’s nothing really in between. And they really help to support our restaurant.
I don’t know what there is to get, but they really seem to enjoy our food. But we wouldn’t be around without them.
Question: Would you ever leave New York?
David Chang: There’s been a lot of talk for Las Vegas, but if that happens it happens. Because of the fact that it’s so difficult to operate in New York, it would be interesting to see what happens in Las Vegas where we wouldn’t necessarily have the tight budget that we work on.
The government officials want you to do well in terms of, they’re not going to hassle you to get a hard bar or a hard liquor license. You’re not going to get noise complaints. You have built in clientele, and they’re not as fickle as; Las Vegas is always ____________.
They always say because it’s money, money, money; but for us we’re always stuck in these crazy, small, weird locations. And to have to start fresh in a new building would be really amazing.
I don’t know.
Like we’d like to go to other cities as well. More importantly, not for me but for a lot of the guys, we’d love to look at Austin, Texas. Because for whatever reason, Texas produces a lot of cooks and they’re all in New York City. A lot of the chefs and a lot of the sous chefs, my business partner and chef, whatever, ____________, he’s from Austin. And you know god.
I can think about a lot of people from Austin, Texas and it would be nice for them. They all want to go back to Texas too so if we’re going to open up stuff, it’s going to be to provide opportunities for guys that have helped me out.