David Chang On Working with Local Farmers
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: Working with Local Farmers
David Chang: We’re trying to use local farmers and their excess harvest of stuff that would usually get thrown away or sold at a completely discounted rate and try to make pickles out of ‘em or potato chips – stuff that’s easy to produce that can help them produce money.
And I figure it’s going to be completely non-profit, maybe under the Momofuku label. I don’t know. But that’s something we’re working on.
I’ve been to several hog farms before, but I’d never been to local farms until about eight or nine months ago.
It was difficult to realize that there was this farm called Hilly Acres farm. It’s about 100 miles north of New York City near Roscoe, New York. And it’s the most beautiful farm. They have cows, turkeys, ducks, pigs. And they’re all running around. But Tonya and Andy – the farmers – and their kids, they can’t live off what they’re doing. That’s their passion, is working the land. And they have to hold day jobs to do it.
So we want to find some way to make that work so they can just work the land, and produce pigs and turkeys for restaurants and stuff like that.
And I’d love to get an edible schoolyard here in New York. I continue to walk by big, big lots of land that have been vacant for years. It would be cool to have something that Alice Waters has done in Berkeley and has sort of exported to Yale.
And this guy named Josh __________ is doing an amazing job running the Yale Sustainability Project.
And it’s just about, one acre of land in Yale, and it makes me mad and jealous that they have something like that up there.
I think New York could really use that.
Question: Why is it important to work with small farmers?
David Chang: Because people can see that. They can see it, and it’s sort of the bridge between the green market and what’s actually being produced. And they can see that, oh man, like it doesn’t come in a cellophane wrapped tray.
They can see that, and they can see the work that gets involved.
And it’s impossible to change the habits of adults.
But if you can start early with the kids, I think that would make a really big impact.
And there’s a lot of value in Red Hook [Brooklyn] and places like that that are trying to do it.
I think that’s probably where the biggest difference can be made, is trying to feed people better and using sustainability gets overrated. I think it’s an overrated term because that’s how people should eat anyways. It’s small business too. You’re supporting your local farmer.
It needs more awareness. It needs more marketing I think, and that would help.
I’ll give you an example too. I think it’s important that people see the connection between farm and where your food comes from. Because I’m guilty of it myself. Like sometimes you’re just like, “Well this pig came from a tree.” For all intents and purposes, that’s what you feel like.
And sometimes I think you have to walk the walk. And we’re actually growing our own hog right now, and we’re going to slaughter it just so we can be part of that process and know it better. And I’ve never killed a pig before, but it’s a cycle of life.
It’s interesting spending time at the farm because they understand it. They value it more. They’re not going waste anything. And they eat off the land, and they help supply themselves by selling it to restaurants. And it’s important at least for a restaurant or a chef to know that and to teach its cooks that if you’re not going to have that pork chop or that end cut that you normally throw away, don’t throw it away. Or if you do any you’re cooking something it’s going to have a lot more love and care. You’re going to really know where it came from. At the end of the day, you’re just going to show it more respect and try to make it as delicious as possible.
So from start to finish, you’re going to have respect for the whole product. And I think it’s important for people to see that because people don’t know where it comes from. You know they don’t.
They’re just fun. They’re good people. It’s a labor of love, and it’s either they’re third or fourth generation farmers. And their kids now don’t want to do it because it’s not cool. Or they realize how difficult it is and they don’t want their kids to do it anymore.
I can think of a farmer from New Jersey where her husband passed away and her daughter is now not helping out because she’s a teacher. And it’s really difficult on them, and they’re amazing people. And they grow delicious food. And if we can help support them and make it so it’s a viable business for them, the better off everyone is gonna be.
For local farmers, the work is, "labor of love."
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