A golf burn-out at age 10.
Question: Who are you?
David Chang: My name’s David Chang. Chef/owner of Momofuku in the East Village. I’m from Northern Virginia, and it’s sort of right outside of Washington, D.C.
I spent a lot of time in Richmond, Virginia. I grew up mostly in a Korean neighborhood until I got to high school. And I was the last kid out of four kids and I was the trouble maker.
My dad grew up in the restaurant business and got out and found a mission in the golf world of all places. And he was like, “I wanna send you to private school,” because I was causing all sorts of trouble.
From then on I was in a whole different world. I went to semi-boarding school. That was a little weird. But high school was a little bit difficult.
My early childhood was strange times. All I did was play golf. Play golf and go to school.
Question: What did you think you’d be doing professionally when you were growing up?
David Chang: I thought I was going to be a professional golf player. Yeah I did. I still even harbor thoughts about quitting everything and trying to make it on the PGA Tour. But no, I totally burned out very early on, like age 10, 11. And all I did literally every day, 365 days a year was play golf. And that’s what my life was, and I thought that’s what I was going do until I realized I wasn’t that good.
Question: When did cooking spark your interest?
David Chang: Pretty early on. I remember being 13 or 14 and telling my dad that hey, I really want to get a job, or a summer job at the restaurant. There was a steak house that I lived near, and it was pretty famous in the D.C. area. And I was like, “I want to cook.” I was like, “What can I do to cook?” Him having grown up and lived in the restaurant industry, and worked in the industry for over 30 years, it was something that he did not want any of his children working in. So he knew that if I bus tables and was given the worst jobs at the restaurant, I would not want to work in a restaurant ever again.
And that’s what had happened. Year after year I’d be like, “No, this isn’t for me.” But he never let me into the kitchen, so I always harbored these not necessarily doubts, but I wanted to cook and at least see what happened.
Because it was just; I don’t know. I was fascinated by it. There’s no real food memories or anything like that that drew me to it, but you know that was sort of dormant for a while.
I almost dropped out of college as well. I applied to the Cordon Bleu when I was abroad in London and I didn’t get it. Had I gotten in, I probably would’ve worked in Europe or something like that. Also had I known what I know now, I didn’t even need to go to cooking school. I probably would have just dropped out and knocked on doors at restaurants in Paris or France and worked for free. But having graduated college and done the whole internship, work and finance thing, very briefly I was just very unhappy with everything. And realizing that I was never going to be as successful as my friends in the corporate world, I decided I was going to see how cooking would.