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: What do you make of food TV?
David Chang: It’s totally strange. Food TV phenomenon is something that I find to be not even a fad. I think it’s just the beginning and it’s making cooking cool.
I wish they would do real world documentaries or whatever. I don’t even know what it’s called – a reality TV show for like farming or something like that, then kids would want to be farmers.
But cooking’s not that cool.
And they’re making it much more glamorous than it is. At the end of the day, it’s still backbreaking work. Literally backbreaking work. And it’s not the case.
And a lot of people want that instant fame and I’m not comfortable with that. I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to be on TV; to do some reality things.
At this moment, I’m not comfortable to say yes. Like I don’t want a camera following me around. I didn’t sign on to be a cook to be on TV.
Sometimes I feel guilty. If I did, it would it make our restaurants constantly busy? Yes. But at what point do you sacrifice your personal integrity and your own private life to have a camera follow you around? Or even do something that you’re not that proud of on TV?
Some people can pull it off and do it really well, and others can’t. And I have a terrible feeling that I’d be one of those that would be on the latter.
It’s incredibly hard, but it’s not for me. And I think that it dumbs down food.
I think that the Food Network – oh they’re never going to put me on TV now – but all the cooking shows that were there are all gone now. It used to be instructional, and now it’s all about lifestyle. And that’s wonderful, but it adds to the dilemma of there’s more cooks now than ever before.
Cooking schools; the admission rates are higher than ever before. There are more cooks.
We need a lot of cooks but they don’t want to work in the kitchen. They only want to be on TV; or cook for six months at some famous restaurant and then apply to be on Bravo to be on Talk Chef.
Talk Chef’s the weird thing, though, because I know some of the cooks that have been on that. And I’ve been on it and I know that they’re really good, too. And obviously I know a lot of the judges, so it’s weird too.
I’m trying to find some type of harmony with that because I think that it’s a wonderful opportunity, but I don’t know. I’m trying to justify it and maybe feel good about having to do it down the road.
Question: Are there any benefits?
David Chang: It brings an excitement. Food TV like the Sandra Lees, Giada De Laurentiis’ of the world--they make it easy and approachable. But at the same time, there’s so much of that too.
I always use the analogy of music. Like there’s only so much Britney Spears and Top 40 music you can listen to. There’s got to be other things, and not everything should be easy and approachable. Not everything should be Harry Potter. There’s too much in the cooking world that’s like Harry Potter. There’s too many adults that will be like, “I finished a book! I finally read a book,” and it was Harry Potter. And I was like, “Yeah, it’s a children’s book. You should finish them.”
I just feel that too many restaurants are the steak house.
And part of it is New York’s fault. Part of it is the media’s fault. Part of it is our fault. But it’s the path of least resistance -- opening restaurants, to introducing people to food is the lowest common denominator.
So what are you going to do about it?